Winter Solstice
ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 10):
Seven Mind States and Ten Stages of Enlightenment
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ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 10): Seven Mind States and Ten Stages of Enlightenment (35 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
November 4, 2012 - Dallas, Texas

Recently I was in a state of deep peace for about two weeks after I came back from New York at the monastery, and one of the practices that the Buddha recommended was mindfulness of the mind states. So I have been practicing that a little bit more frequently of late, just being aware of my different mind states. So when sad, be aware. Oh, there is sadness. When there is anger, oh, there is anger. When the mind is refined, oh, the mind is refined. When the mind is agitated, oh, the mind is agitated.

Many people mistakenly think that mindfulness is about having deep peace all the time, but that is not actually the case. Mindfulness is awareness, so if there is deep peace happening, great. Be aware of that. And if there is not deep peace happening, great. Be aware of that. But whatever your state of mind is, whether it's forgetfulness or deep remembering, just be aware. Oh, this is where my mind is at right now.

So I was practicing this because I was feeling very grateful for this state of mind that I was in for two weeks, just a peacefulness. It wasn't as deep as Samadhi, like I experienced last year, and it certainly wasn't kensho, a glimpse of enlightenment, like a few years ago. It was just peacefulness, and so I noticed that there were ripples in the peacefulness, but I always came back to the peacefulness, so I would maybe get irritated for a few seconds, but it would just go right back to peacefulness.

And then sometimes I would be a little bit sad or something, but I would go right back to peacefulness. No matter what happened, I would just keep going back to peacefulness, and I was enjoying that, but I was also watching it, just noticing any changes, because I know all states of mind are impermanent since everything in the universe of our human experience is impermanent. So I have learned over the years not to be attached to any particular mind states, but just to be with it and also to be with it as it changes into other mind states.

This time I practiced very diligently watching my mind states in the past week, and you know, just watching and seeing if there were any changes. And on Thursday last week in the afternoon, I felt when it actually shifted from the peacefulness to getting agitated and going further down and further down, and I was noticing what were the thoughts in my mind as this was happening, and I was allowing myself to get agitated about a friend that I really wanted to help but I wasn't able to really do much for him, and I was feeling a little bit agitated about him. I had felt that from time to time in the last two weeks, but it always went back to peacefulness, so what made the difference this time?

I was observing what was different. Well, I was in Austin last week, and in our household of 5 people, 5 friends, one of my housemates down there was experiencing a deep depression, and actually I could feel it palpably in the house. It was very severe. I found out later that he goes through this every year for 3 months, October through December. It is very, very severe for him. And when I thought I was trying to be helpful in offering some words of advice gently, which I thought was doing my good deed, he was very reactive to it, so I noticed as I was thinking about that and feeling the energy in the house just so dense, my state of peace was not able to sustain, and I started falling.

But I was not allowing myself to lose the mindfulness. I still stayed mindful, even as I was dropping from peace into anxiety. And I was just watching it, and it was interesting that because my mind was coming from a place of deep peace and mindfulness, as I dropped into the state of anxiety, I noticed that things externally were starting to manifest the same anxiety too, so that they were matching inner and outer.

As I was feeling anxiety, I was supposed to get ready for a dinner party, and I could not because at that moment, all the water shut down in the house and there was a big truck outside, and they were trying to fix something, and something got broken or whatever. So I did not know what I was going to do, how I was going shower or anything, and I was actually in the middle of washing the dishes, so I had soapy hands and everything. And then a few other things: I sent a text, and then I had a voicemail with somebody who was mad at me about something. Anyway, it was funny to me that as my mind state was going to a state of anxiety, I was quickly manifesting it externally; maybe because my mind was just so present, it was the manifestation of the mind. Externally, it was able to manifest quite dramatically.

Anyway, I stayed with this state of mind of anxiety for about a day and a half, and normally for me when I go into the anxiety state, that can lead to a depression state, but I knew enough about the practice to keep staying mindful, and mindfulness has actually more than one meaning. It does not just mean awareness. That is the more accepting aspect of mindfulness, but there is also an active aspect of mindfulness, which is to see what is going on and then to gently bring yourself back to the practice.

So, I was gently bringing myself to remembering, when I go into anxiety, to prevent depression, what do I do? Well, I have all these wonderful practices. So I started to do all of them. I took a walk out in nature, got some sunshine, made sure I ate correctly, had my vitamin supplements. I made sure I had enough sleep that evening. I made sure I didn't watch any movies or listen to anything that was going to be very agitating. I went to a yoga class the next day in the morning, and I made sure I did all my meditations that day and the next day, and I also--another practice--made sure I hung out with people who are more enlightened than me. So I went to the Zen Center and I had a nice chat with Zen teacher, and we took a nice walk also together for several minutes, and that is very nice, to walk with my Zen teacher.

And so, naturally, organically I noticed more fully that my mind state went from anxiety not to depression but back to a normal state of consciousness. So I'm not really in that state at the moment, but I'm at least in a normal state. But I am not attached. Our practice is not to be attached to bliss states. Our practice is just to be aware of whatever state we are in and just keep practicing, and to notice when you do certain things, where does your mind state go, and when you do other things, where does your mind state go?

It is important to know cause and effect relationships of our experience, because most of the time we are unaware. So you actually have any power over anything. You know? We feel like victims because we don't realize that, well, we can actually do something about our mind states. We can actually do something to change our consciousness, but most of the time because we don't realize we do have that power, we feel like victim to whatever emotions may arise.

So I was contemplating this, and it was nice to just stay mindful to this. I realize at least for right now, I see seven mind states in my experience. But really six, because I have not experienced the seventh one, but I know it exists. I think I will write on the board of my experience of the seven mind states, and then I will hopefully talk about the actual topic of the evening, which I had advertised, which is the ten stages of enlightenment, and I thought I would share something from my personal experience first with you tonight.

I also want to share that sometimes we are doing the work of a bodhisattva just by being present, even if we do not say anything or do anything external; just being present in a situation can bring transformation, and I do believe in that story from China where a village was having a lot of chaos and illnesses and violence was happening and just kind of bad things were happening in the village, and so they asked the hermit who lived in the mountains, the Taoist wise old hermit, to please come down and help us.

And so he came down, but he did not do anything. He just walked among the people and chatted with people. He meditated. He ate meals with people, and he just enjoyed being peaceful in his hut in the village. And after several weeks, everything started to change in the village. People were more peaceful. There was less aggravation, less violence, less crime. Things were becoming more and more harmonious, and then when everything seemed fine again, he knew it was time to walk back up the mountain.

And I think all of us have a mission. You know? Many times I hear from people, what is my mission in life? I want to know. And I smile, because I realize just being you is already fulfilling your mission. Can you just be who you are? Just sit and be. Smile. And just be you are. Let that radiate.

As I was sitting in that house, I realized that my home environment is very important for me because it is a sanctuary for me. Perhaps if I wasn't in that environment, I might have sustained the peace state a little longer, but when my home environment is agitated, I know that I am not strong enough to sustain a peace state because I absorb especially things in my home environment, which is why the last couple of years, I have always tried to make sure that my home environment is optimal, because I know it is important for me. It is what nurtures me.

But at the same time, I realized that just being there was fulfilling a mission, just being there. And maybe on some deep invisible levels, I was doing the bodhisattva work of just being with the depression energy in the house and just being with that, and maybe I was not personally strong enough to sustain the peace state, but with mindfulness, I allowed myself not to go any further than just the anxiety state, and I was able to lift it back up to normal state within just two days, which is a pretty good feat for me, because normally it takes weeks for me.

So I smiled in gratitude that I learned something from this experience, and I also noticed that this roommate finally got out of his room and started doing things and it didn't seem as heavy in the depression. I had no idea if it had anything to do with me, but I do believe that possibly there was something to do with my just being present there, and he will never thank me. He will never realize that I did anything for him just by being present, and that is okay. A true bodhisattva does not need applause, doesn't need people to thank you. I think our greatest applause is when we know that we've done what we've done, that we are just being who we are, and that's all, just being who we are. It's just like a flower that doesn't need to do very much, just be a flower, and people smile when they encounter the flower, when they smell the fragrance.

So through this observation, instead of being upset that I lost peace, I used it as an opportunity to learn, and because I've learned, now I can share with you. For me, anyway, in my experience--and I am sure there are very many more mind states than these, but these are the main ones that I go through. At the lowest, there is the depression one, which is very connected for me with the anxiety mind state. And there is what might be considered normal mind state, and then I call the peace states. Maybe I use a fancy word like shanti.

Shanti just means peace. Because I distinguish it from Samadhi, which is a much deeper experience of blissful peace and oneness of mind and body, and then even deeper than that is what in Japanese Zen is called kensho, which is not just oneness of body and mind, but dropping all identification with body and mind altogether and just remembering that you are actually not the body and mind, but just infinite spaciousness.

There are really no words for it, which is why I like to use the word emptiness. But when we use the word emptiness, in English translation, emptiness for us also has a negative connotation, but that is not actually the meaning of the word. It is more of an empty--like if this room is empty, it is spacious. It is free. It is liberated. It was just--there is so much intentionality and possibility, you see, rather than clutter. So you can think of emptiness as completely non-cluttered by all of our crazy ideas and notions of whatever reality is, but just reality as it is, uncluttered.

And then of course what I have not yet experienced, but when you have kensho, it is like a glimpse of satori, which is full enlightenment, which would be like a full-time kensho. But anyway, I have only had maybe kensho once or twice, samadhi a few times, and shanti once in a while. But most of the time, I am in normal state, and a lot of the time I am in anxiety or depression, which I've experienced for much of my life now and then. But now I don't judge it, because I've realized that sometimes things happen for a reason, and everything can be used as compost for creating the garden of beauty in your life. Because I have experienced a lot of depression and anxiety throughout the years, I have a lot more compassion for those who also experience anxiety and depression, and because I had to work on my own anxiety and depression, I now have a lot more things to offer to others who may ask me for some advice on how to handle and manage their anxiety and depression from my own personal experience.

So I no longer judge when I may enter into states like that. Now I have the tools to be in that mindfully, because when we can be mindful in whatever state we are in, we will learn things that we can share with others, and really, that is why we practice. It is not only for our own benefit. It is so that we can share the benefits. So do not think that you're being depressed alone. Do not think that you are being anxious alone. You are not. Anything you are going through is always an opportunity to learn and grow through it so that you can share and bless others.

The next time you're in anxiety or depression, see if you can remember that little glimmer of truth as you are going through it, and realize that you're going through it for the sake of others, to help others, who may be in it even deeper than you are, who will need you to shine their light for them.

So, when I mentioned kensho, in my experience of kensho, certain realizations arose spontaneously, and one of them was understanding why the universe exists and what this is all about and why there are humans and what is the whole thing about the earth and history and all of that. So it is just a glimpse. I'm not claiming absolute truth at all. I am just saying this is what I experienced, and I shared it with one of my Zen teachers in Minnesota, and she said, "This is perfectly in harmony with the Buddhist understanding," so I'm going to share with you.

Some of you may have heard this teaching already. I think it's on our website in the audio. I don't know what it's titled, but anyway, the first stage--and I'm going to say stages of enlightenment, but it is not actually linear, because you can actually jump and repeat the stages, and you can skip and go back, but anyway, eventually everyone goes through all ten.

So we start off with pure innocence, and then whether you believe in pre-life or reincarnation and all that stuff or just this life, it doesn't really matter, because you can think of this as the innocence of being a baby, or you can also think of it as innocence being a spiritual being before incarnating. However you want to think of it, it doesn't matter. We all start there, but soon after, we are born into this world, this interesting world. We begin to suffer, and we feel lost.

And honestly, stage two actually coexists with all the other ones too, but we enter into the stage of existence it seems like from innocence right into feeling lost and not knowing why there is so much craziness. As a child, it is really, really quite confusing. But eventually, as we keep growing up, we begin to seek answers. We began to seek some sort of way to transform the suffering, to understand what is the meaning of life, and so we may start doing some shopping around--and by the way, this is more my experience, not necessarily everyone's, but you might be able to relate to this.

It doesn't necessarily have to be in this order for you, because everyone is different. You might seek the truth. You might seek answers, and you might try this or try that, try Christianity, try Buddhism, try yoga, just try all sorts of things. Do some spiritual window shopping. But eventually, it is important actually in the seeking stage to commit to a path that is going to work for you, and so many people, including me, we have committed to something. In my early years I committed to being more diligent and going to church and reading the Bible and going to prayer meetings and all of that. And I even started committing to giving some donations, because I knew these were good practices, and committed to keeping the Commandments and all of this.

Now, for me, as I was doing all of this, I still felt there was something missing, and I thought, is this all there is to spirituality, just going to church? And I just felt like there is something not quite fully there yet, and so I began to explore again--I started seeking again, and I stumbled upon meditation practice. You know, meditation is not the only kind of practice in this stage. There are many others, but it is the one that I discovered that was helping with the transformation of consciousness, and so I began to learn meditation.

I probably could've learned it from some Christian meditation teacher, but I didn't know any. There are so few of them, at least here, so I discovered it through Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. And so then I began to learn to meditate and to start meditating, and then as I continued in my meditation practice for several years, I began to deepen in the practice and to experience breakthroughs and insights through the practice. So I began to be more committed to a meditation practice and to deepen and to have breakthrough experiences, and then a few years ago, I had a kensho experience, which basically was just a glimpse of awakening or a glimpse of enlightenment.

Some people actually call it awakening, and that is okay to call it awakening, as long as you know there is more than that. There is a deeper awakening. If you want to call it awakening, fine, but there's also deeper awakening. If you want to call that enlightenment, fine, but there's actually a much fuller experience of enlightenment than that, which is why I do not even want to call it enlightenment, because it is just a glimpse of our true reality.

So then ever since then, I have been practicing the next two stages, which are actually really one stage, but I like to have even numbers, so I made it ten. But anyway, I divided the next stage into two, and it actually makes sense, because the next two stages would be integration and embodiment, and this will probably take the rest of the night, but to integrate the experience of realizing your infinite Buddha nature with also expressing through a finite human body/mind, this takes a lot of practice. So just because you have an awakening, that is not the end of the story.

Now you have to integrate, because it can be rocky, you know? It is like, oh my gosh. Yeah. I had an experience with this insight, and then what? I still have to wash the dishes? I have to do laundry? It is like, what? Infinite Buddha has to do the laundry? Okay. So you can learn to integrate the experience so that you're not just lost in Lala land all the time. You're actually trying to be helpful and present in the here and now. Have you heard the phrase, too heavenly minded to be any earthly good? So a lot of people who have this experience, you know, give them a few months, because they are still on cloud nine.

But fortunately for me, I had a lot of practice and teachers, so I did not stay in the clouds too long. But anyway, integration is kind of rocky, and embodiment is like you are now getting the hang of it. You are now being a clear channel, a clear vessel of infinite light in the here and now. The divine and the human are all flowing as one, and it is not so different. And I think that people who are at the embodiment state are like saints. Just being around them, you can feel their energy. They just radiate love and light and wisdom.

There is one Buddhist saint that I just totally love. I've never met her, but for some reason I just feel so close to her. Her name is Dipa Ma, and I hope you'll read about her story sometime. People said that they would go to her little apartment, and as they were walking up the steps, they could feel the light and the energy of love, before they even walked into the room. And then when they would enter, the first thing she would always do to her guests was to greet them and put her hands and just bless them. And there are so many stories of people who the moment she touched them, they felt waves of love, and they would go into states of shanti or samadhi for several days. But this is what happens when we are at this point of full embodiment of this awakening reality of who we really are. We just naturally radiate that and bless people just by being present.

And then, of course, the tenth stage is called Buddhahood, full enlightenment. This is how I understand what all of this is all about. The whole universe is just a Buddha-making machine, but we need to go through everything, all of these different stages, and of course sometimes, the suffering part sometimes stays throughout, but sometimes you keep going back to seeking and seeking and seeking and recommitting. And some people go directly from suffering all the way to awakening because of some shock to their system, like a near-death experience on the mountaintop or even a drug experience or whatever. It is like they suddenly awake and see true reality, but only for a moment, and then for the rest of their life they feel confused, and they do not know what to make of this, which is why you can never skip any of these stages, including meditation.

Yes, people can awaken without meditation, but they still need to meditate, even after awakening, so you can process it and be of more service to others, because as you meditate, you transform this body mind so I can become a clearer channel of that initial awakening that you have. But if you just have an awakening out of the blue, you are not going to be as much help to others without going through all the other stages, committing to a practice, etc. So even if you skip certain things, you eventually over time are going to have to actually do all of the homework, but here is the thing. This is the most important part of my insight from my experience.

Of all of these stages, guess which is most important: number two. It's the one we don't like the most, but I saw very clearly that this was the very ingredient that we needed for all the rest happen, because otherwise--and by the way, the innocence never actually was lost. Who we are as human nature has always been that. We are always original blessing, purity, all of that, but in our human experience, we seem to experience that we lost it, but we really never did.

But see, if we had not gone through this stage two, we would just be forever eternally just the innocent, bland bright light, but that is not what we chose. We chose to refract into a zillion bazillion colors of the rainbow so that instead of just having one bland Buddha nature, we would have infinite numbers of Buddhas of various kinds. To use Christian language, God was not satisfied just being God, but wanted to become infinite numbers of children of God or infinite numbers of expressions of God manifesting God's infinite qualities in all different ways, unique ways.

Which is why you cannot compare yourself to anyone else, because your journey is unique for your journey. Jesus' journey was different from your journey, and you are equally a child of God as Jesus, and the Buddha's journey was different from your journey, but you are equally an expression of enlightenment as the Buddha. It's just that you are not fully baked yet. You have to go through the oven, okay? And it is not always pleasant, but when we come out, we are fully awakened Buddha, expressing in our own unique way.

So it was the will of the infinite that there should not be just one kind of Buddha but infinite numbers of kinds, and that is what we are all about, and this is why this universe exists. So walk your path. Enjoy the example of other's paths, but know that you have your own path that no one in the entire universe can have except you. So next time when you are down on yourself, remember that who you really are is exquisite beyond imagining. It is best to remember that this part is important and it's there for a reason. I know in human experience we hate it and we don't like it, but it is what makes us unique. It is what makes us develop wisdom and compassion. It is what makes us beautifully who we are.


Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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