Tonight instead of continuing on the topic of the lojong—I am too tired, and I did not do enough study on the topic for tonight since I had prepared mostly for the retreat. So I would like for us to have question and answer evening. So think of a good question that is not only beneficial for yourself but maybe for somebody else in the room, and let us just go around and share a question or a comment about our practice.
I will just start off and just say that I hope we can practice the 3 Buddha practice more often. I really like it. Just the Shakyamuni Buddha practice of meditation, mindfulness, awareness of the breath in the body here and now, the Amitabha practice of chanting from the heart or using the mantra Amitabha or Amideva or something similar, just opening the heart of love and compassion. And the Medicine Buddha healing practice of consciously receiving healing energy and giving healing energy, knowing that we are channels of healing and blessing in the world. And it is really nice if we can chant the Medicine Buddha healing dharani throughout the day whenever we think of it. I love it. The energy of it is so powerful, especially when now all of you are starting to memorize it, the energy is amazing. So thank you.
And you know, you do not have to think of it as 3 Buddhas. You could just think of it as one Buddha: the Buddha's mind, the Buddha's heart, and the Buddha's healing hands. Head, heart, hands. So you could think of it all as just one Buddha with 3 aspects. It is up to you. And of course in our Buddhist traditions, there are so many bodhisattvas that can also embody these qualities, so you can choose a different symbol. Manjushri for wisdom. Avalokiteshvara for compassion. Maybe Ksitigarba for courageous activism, service. Or if you come from a different religious tradition, it is fine to use another symbol or persons who historically have embodied these qualities. Maybe some particular prophets or saints or different qualities of the Christ.
The main important thing is that we practice wisdom, mindfulness, love, compassion, and healing service. That is really what really matters, so whether you use these particular specific techniques to energize and activate these qualities in you does not matter so much making sure you do something that activates these qualities in your life. So pick something that will help you and then just do it, but do not get stuck on the form. Also do not denigrate the form. You may believe in universal spirituality; the universal spirituality still needs something specific. You may believe in the brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind, humankind. Well, that is fine and dandy, but you have to learn how to actually love a real human. You know? You may say you love humanity, but you hate your actual neighbor. You know what I'm saying? That is not real. So yes.
We can have a very interfaith, broad, universal spiritual tolerance, but you still have to pick something and do it. And so for me and many of you in the room, you have chosen a Buddhist path as a really specific way to cultivating these qualities, but maybe some others of you in this room are more inclined toward another tradition, and you just like coming here because it feels good. That is great. You're always welcome here. You don't have to be Buddhist to come here. We welcome everyone. We just want to support you in your practice of mindfulness and compassion and service in whatever way is helpful for you.
Okay. So are there any questions?
Audience Member: I just want to thank you, ChiSing, for everything you are and everything you do and for being our teacher and having this place available for us and the oneness that I feel when you are—that is where I guess the happiness comes from, you know? The oneness. Thank you.
ChiSing: You reminded me of a comment I made at the retreat. I said something about—because I know a lot of people appreciate what they receive here, and since I am the director, they kind of associate it with me, but honestly I'm just another regular human being. I just happen to know a few things, and if I were the only one here, we would not have this building, so it is because of all of us collectively that this is co-created. It is not just one person that does this. And of course, if I didn't have my teachers, I would not have known how to do this, so it is really physically you may see one person, but really you are seeing many persons in each person. Because really I am made of so many factors and people and influences and so are you.
Anyway, I was just saying that I invite you to take refuge in the Buddha in me but not to take refuge in me, you know? So please, by all means, take refuge in the Buddha in me that you feel, that emanates from me, but do not take refuge in me. Take refuge in the Buddha in me, and when you do take refuge in the Buddha in me, guess what? It is the same Buddha in you. So take refuge in the Buddha in yourself. But I like people to take refuge in the Buddha in me because I know that that helps people to have more confidence, eventually to take refuge in the Buddha in themselves. So I am okay with people looking up to me or whatever, but ultimately, they are not really looking up to me. They are looking through me to the Buddha.
Okay. Other questions?
Audience Member: Can you explain the significance of the hands of Buddha and what they mean?
ChiSing: So, the painting, the Buddha is touching the earth, and this reminds us of the story when he was being challenged by Mara, who said, "Who do you think you are? What right do you have to think that you can become enlightened?" So the Buddha touched the earth, and the earth shook, and the earth resounded with affirmation because the earth had been witness to all of his practices and many lifetimes of service and practice, and in that lifetime as well. So the earth witnessed, saying, "Yes, this one has every right."
And so, when you feel down on yourself, remember where you came from. Your real mother, Mother Earth has worked for billions of years to produce you. Don't you think you're worth something? You have every right to be on the path of awakening and enlightenment. If the universe, if the earth took billions of years to evolve for you this present body, then you are just so valuable. So you have every right to practice for awakening and enlightenment. That is what you are made for. The whole universe has conspired for your good for billions of years so that you could exist right here and right now in this form. Please do not waste this wonderful rare precious opportunity. The earth is our witness.
And also in the statue, the Buddha is doing a mudra. I'm not exactly sure what the exact mudra is, but I do know that they represent blessing, at least the one extended this way is blessing. Maybe Bobbie might know something more specific from Tashi, but I know that in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there are very specific meanings. But I do know that just intuitively, it is a lovingkindness and compassion and blessing mudra.
Bobbie: I do know that when I have practiced that mudra, it starts a circuit, and so it feels like I am receiving and giving. Or well actually receiving here and giving here [gesturing with the mudra in left hand and in the right]. So it is like a circuit.
ChiSing: And then of course the bodhisattva over here—they are actually both Avalokiteshvara. One is in meditation mode, and the other is in relaxation mode, and yet also there is stepping down off the seat, and that represents always ready to serve. Relaxed, but ready. It is really nice actually, a really powerful symbol, because we have to have that balance. If we are always serving and serving and serving, we're going to get so tired. But if we're just always relaxed, we might get lazy. So it is a balance of relaxed and ready to serve. And this is our practice, to be balanced. I am sure our wonderful tai chi teacher, Janna, knows that this is also true in many tai chi moves. It is a balance. Thank you for your question.
Audience Member: What kind of advice do you have for comforting, especially young people at that time in their life when they have this deep need to have somebody else in their life? What kind of advice do you have about consoling them or guiding them, especially if they are not particularly spiritually oriented?
ChiSing: Well, there are 2 things you can do. One is invisible, which is to practice lovingkindness and compassion meditation for them, and they don't need to know that you're doing that. You can just silently or invisibly do that. That is one thing you can do. And as you are doing that, also practice wisdom, because it is also their life, and they have certain lessons that they're going to be needing to learn, and you cannot take away their lessons. You can love them but also know that they have a life of their own that they are responsible for, and sometimes growing pains and trial and error are part of the process. So we can't just take away people's suffering, take away their lessons. But we can love them as they are going through their lessons and their trial and error.
The second thing you can do is to encourage them to do things that actually nourish them emotionally and in other ways. Many times in our society, we put so much emphasis on romantic relationships, it is actually overkill. That because we're young, we just believe what we see all around us in the movies and TV programs. It's like romantic relationships are just the thing. If you don't have that, you're nothing, you know? But that is not true. What makes it worse is if you put all of your energy, spending all of your energy and time and effort over trying to have a romantic relationship, when it is much healthier to have that as just one part of your life, and putting equal effort into other aspects that also nourish you.
So two persons going through the same break up have very different experiences if one doesn't have any other support systems in place, whereas the other person, they have their weekly meditation group or their weekly church group or they have their 12-step group or they have friends that they see or they have their family or they have their favorite activities they like to do, like maybe a hiking club, or that they do volunteer work. That person is going to be able to deal with the hardships of the up and down of romantic searching versus the person who has none of these things because they have just spent all of their time obsessed with this one person. Do you see what I am saying? We have got to stop being so obsessed with trying to find that one person who is going fulfill us and make us happy. Guess what? If you find that person, you're going to make them miserable because you do not have anything else to give.
So please spend time on your spiritual life, community life, friendship, family, volunteering life, work life, taking care of the earth, gardening, being out in nature, going to yoga, qi gong, whatever. Do all these wonderful things that nourish you and then you will be a lot healthier to be in a relationship. And if you happen to be in a breakup, you will be able to get through it easier. Does that make sense? So you can try to say these things to them, but they may not listen because they are young. But at least you have planted a seed of wisdom in their mind, and then you let it go because you cannot live their life for them. You have to let them live their life. Thank you.
Audience Member: My daughter is one that—there is a fellow that he has the obsession and addiction, both for his—there is always drama, and it has been years of this now. But she is going to college and doing a lot of things and just met someone else. Before he knows it—I do not know how he finds out, but it is like God, Buddha, if I can maintain my spirituality this time, is this a re-test? Because I don't want to lose it again. I cannot go into all of the details, but the anger, and I am thinking, where is my love and compassion? If that makes any sense. Like all of my spirituality, what is it worth?
ChiSing: This is where wisdom of nonself can help, but before we investigate that, please always know that we need to just be real and honest. Being spiritual does not mean that we do not have a human feeling. So what actually will make it worse is if you try to suppress the feelings thinking that you are trying to be more spiritual, but actually that will make it worse so just feel the feelings thoroughly until they dissipate instead of resisting them. Just feel them. Make sure you feel them in a locked room. Feel the anger, but do not think about the stories you create around it. Just feel the actual physical sensation and breathe through it. Really feel it. Let it exist. There is a saying: every feeling has a right to be heard. But no feeling has a right to run your life. Every feeling has a right to be heard, but no feeling has a right to run your life.
So now let us look at the teaching of nonself. You are actually not angry at him. You are angry at a story about him, because who he is today is a little bit different then who was 3 years ago, and who you are today if a little bit different from who you were 3 years ago. So in this fresh new moment, you're actually a different person relating to a different person, but if you hold onto the story of who you think you are and hold on to the story of who you thought he was, then you're just holding onto the story and you are imprisoning yourself in a self that you are no longer actually that, and you are imprisoning them in your mind into a self that they no longer are.
This is why when we grow up with our parents and then leave home and then years later when we come visit again, we have grown up. We are adults now. They are different also, but when we go home all of a sudden we are like a teenager, aren't we? All the issues and all the patterns all come up again, and you think what? I've grown up. I'm an adult now. I've gone through all of this. Why is this relationship acting out this exact same stuff when I was a teenager with them? Because both you and your parents are creating in your mind a prison that holds you to a you that used to exist. And so when you both do that to each other, that is what comes up, even though they are different now and you are different now, but you're both holding each other and mentally being what you were years ago rather than being fresh and new and relating in a new different way, as you really are. Do you see what I am saying?
So this is how we do things and this is how we act in many different circumstances. So the last thing I want to share because there is someone else who also wants to share something is if that tree were a rabbit, would you kill the rabbit just because you associate it mentally with that person? No. So do not kill the tree. It is not the tree's fault that that person is associated with it in your mind. The tree is its own being so do not kill the tree just because in your mind you associate it with that person, because in reality that tree has nothing to do with a person. Okay.
This is why we meditate. This is why we practice meditation because eventually we have to go beyond just the good effects of the meditation, which are peace, right? We want the peace but we have to practice even more so that we go beyond just the peace effects of the meditation and go toward the wisdom effects of the meditation. Because without the wisdom aspect of meditation, we are never really going to transform things fully in our lives. We will just have a little bit of peace around it but not transform it, so most people stop short at the peace effect of meditation. What we need to do is keep practicing so we go beyond just peace to wisdom. But that takes time and that takes discipline. That takes patience.
So keep practicing the meditation and mindfulness to the point where you see how your mind is what creates the suffering. He is not creating the suffering. Your mind is creating the suffering. Most people do not see that. They blame external circumstances or other persons for their suffering, but it is not actually them that cause the suffering in you. It is your own interpretation. It is your own way of imprisoning yourself and others in a pattern that doesn't really exist anymore. And so by doing that we perpetuate other people continuing in those patterns. They might have changed, but then when you see them that way, they start acting according to the way you see them. You know? We do this with people who have past criminal records. Once they get out of jail, even if they have performed, they are a different person, and they want to serve and they want to make up for all the bad they did, yet when people look at them, label them, it is so hard to break out of the old patterns. It makes it so hard for them, you know? Because of the constant judgment.
So we practice by looking at our own judgments, because we imprison others and ourselves with our judgments. I do that also. But through the practice of mindfulness, I am becoming more aware of what I am doing, and when you are aware, that is the first step to changing. Without awareness, you just unconsciously play out the same stuff over and over and over again. But don't worry. The universe is constructed in such a way but if you keep doing that you will suffer, and the suffering will make you want to change things. So that suffering makes you desperate enough to go deeper in meditation and spiritual practice so that you can change it. So, see how perfect the universe is? There's a whole system of checks and balances. So if you go off, the universe will just create more suffering for your life so that you can get desperate enough to want to change it.
Audience Member: I was just listening to a couple of you bringing up this issue of young people and romantic relationships, and this is something that has always been on my mind, when I was a young person, and it is an issue that I think closely relates to spirituality because I think that the whole quest for a partner and a romantic relationship is very connected to that desire for intimacy with the divine. And to me, they kind of mirror each other sometimes. I find that it is very challenging for young people to deal with that aspect of life when they do not have a grounding and some kind of foundation in some kind of a spiritual path. I find it very difficult because it is so tied to identity and if you start thinking who I am is this relationship, this person makes me who I am, then when that relationship goes away, you feel like nothing. So to me, it is about realizing that your identity is not a gift of another person. Your identity is something that is hopefully far greater than any one relationship can contain. So I think this is a huge, huge thing for most of our lives, and I just know for me when I start feeling like this relationship is who I am, then I am a miserable human being. But when I know who I am then my relationship becomes more beautiful. Thank you.
ChiSing: Any other questions? Or comments?
Audience Member: ChiSing, I have one. What is the significance of the water on the table?
ChiSing: Oh. Okay. I will talk about the different elements on the table. So I like to think of the paintings and statues as 3-D mirrors. So we are not worshipping them as idols, we are looking at them as mirrors and we are seeing ourselves. We're reminded that this is who we really can be and who we really are. And then the candles represent—the statue of the Buddha represents the Buddha. The candles, I think of them as standing for the dharma of light, the teaching of truth and life that sheds light and wisdom on our ignorance and delusion. And the flowers represent the sangha, the fragrance of being together, the fragrance of our brothers and sisters. And then the water represents the clarity of our mind and the practice of meditation and purity and stillness.
So usually we—you know, people like to change the water every day and bless the water and therefore it becomes like holy water and you can use it to bless people, but I have a lid on it, so it is pretty clean still. I don't know why the Buddhists in Asia didn't think of having a lid, but I like to put a lid on it. And if you want to spiritualize that, maybe you can think of it as put a lid on it. Chill. Put a lid on it. Don't overthink on it. Okay? Thank you. Any other questions?
Audience Member: The lotus flower. What is the meaning of that?
ChiSing: It is a beautiful symbol in Asia, especially in Buddhism and in other traditions. The lotus flower is a very unique kind of flower. There are not very many other flowers that have the same qualities. The pedals and the leaves are shaped microscopically in such a way that water just drips right off. Water and mud do not really—cannot hold onto the pedals or the leaves. They just kind of brush right off. So this is a wonderful symbol of being a delicate, beautiful lotus flower and yet we cannot be stained or soiled by the water or the mud, you see?
We look so delicate, and yet we are also strong and resilient at the same time. Things cannot just stain us or things—nothing can cling to us. If we are truly equanimous and deeply at peace and who we really are, then anger can come but it cannot stay. Sadness will come, but it can't cling to us, and anxiety may come but it cannot stain us. Also, lotus flowers do not grow in nice soil. They grow in these muddy, icky looking murky ponds, and they grow from down below in the mud under the water and then they start growing up through the water and then hit the surface and then bloom. And none of the mud stuck on them. And so that is a symbol of our lives. We may be born in this realm of samsara, of suffering and anger and some delusion, but who we really are is Buddha and Buddha will keep unfolding and growing and manifesting until we are fully awake and enlightened.
So it is kind of like that Christian Bible saying. Be in the world but not of the world. You are in the world, but not of the world. So you may have been born into this realm, but this is not your true origination. Your true origination is within, comes from within, that deep, divine place of light. Your Buddha nature. So that is why we love the lotus flower, and also it is a cool looking flower.
Bobbie: There is also that Thich Nhat Hanh shirt that says "no mud, no lotus."
ChiSing: Yeah. So appreciate your suffering. This is how a Buddha is formed. This is the womb of the Buddha. So we are all Buddhas, Buddha babies in the making.
Audience Member: There is a book I have called At Home in the Muddy Water about how life is muddy and kind of [inaudible]…
ChiSing: Yes. It is a good book, too. Ezra Bayda, right?
Audience Member: Yes.
Audience Member: Say the name again.
Audience Member: Ezra Bayda. At Home in the Muddy Waters.
ChiSing: Yeah. It is a good book because he is a Zen teacher as well as a psychologist or psychotherapist. Okay. One last question or comment.
Audience Member: I have one.
Audience Member: I don't remember the process, but it was talking about manifesting your intention, and just thinking about [inaudible] and self-doubt and things like that, how—what advice you would give on how to stick with that and not let the other things keep you from it?
ChiSing: I think your question is how to really be true to your original positive intention and not let the other stuff—self-doubt—sabotage it, right? Something like that. Because self-sabotage is a major thing in my life and probably yours too.
In Buddhism, we have a thing called vows. And there's a whole metaphysics behind it. I don't necessarily believe in the Buddhist metaphysics literally, but I would just tell you what the traditional understanding is. The traditional understanding is that a person may make an intention to want to follow the path of lovingkindness, spirituality, enlightenment, but then when they die and maybe they are reborn in another life where there is completely different circumstances around them, and there is no teachers around them or opportunities to learn about the dharma again, then they've kind of forgotten that earlier intention and therefore it is very easy for them to just go downward on a different path.
So for Buddhists, they believe that you have to make a very powerful vow in this life and you make it over and over and over and over until it is so strong in your subconscious mind so that when you die and are reborn in a different life, that thought is so strong in that subconscious mind that it carries over into the next life and it cannot be destroyed. However, to make that kind of strong vow requires a lot of energy, and most Americans do not have that level of kind of energy and determination that I have seen in Asia and among Buddhist monks and nuns. When they make their vows, wow. They really mean business. And we don't have that same kind of energy, and I think that we would do well to create more of that energy to really dedicate ourselves to our truest vow.
Now you can also have other intentions, but really the most important intention is that central vow for enlightenment. Every other intention is secondary. If the vow for full awakening, enlightenment, and liberation for yourself to benefit all other beings, if that is not the central vow, then all your other vows or intentions are just so weak. So we really need to really fully come back to our truest central vow over and over and over again. Now I don't believe in the metaphysics of some of the belief systems like that, but I do believe that the vow is important. So just make sure that everything in your life is supporting your vow or supporting your intention. See what things are not supporting it, you know?
Because the reason why we are not fully enlightened even though it is easy because it is who we are—the reason we are not fully enlightened right now is because only one part of us is saying yes and the rest of us is saying yes, no, maybe. Yes, no, maybe. And you know whenever you have a spiritual breakthrough experience for a few seconds? That is when all the different parts of your inner life all say yes the same time for a few seconds, and then of course quickly it goes back to yes, no, maybe. Yes, no, maybe. That is why having a true vow the determination and effort for the practice of meditation and the rituals and the incense offering and the bowing—all of these things, the study of the teachings and giving money to the monasteries and feeding the monks and nuns and volunteering—all of these things help create that energy that is necessary to make your vows strong and real. But I rarely see it among Americans, even American meditators. I do not see that level of dedication.
And I hope that someday we will see more of it. But right now, we are in the time period where we are just introducing the dharma to Americans, and hopefully the next generation will take it to the next level, but we are the pioneers. So let's really plant the seeds of dharma strongly now, because the next generation is depending on us to do some of this hard initial work, right? So really dedicate yourself. And you know, if you are not at the level where you can meditate every day, it is okay, but keep making that vow every day. Like in the morning, can you just take at least 3 minutes to do 3 bows in front of your altar and light an incense stick and say your intentions and your vows? At least at the beginning of the day and maybe at the end at night? Even if you don't have time or if you are not at this stage yet where you can meditate every day, at least do your vows every day in the morning and in the evening. It is so important. It just sets the tone of your life.
So the talk I gave last Sunday, I talked about karma and dharma and seva and punya and all of that stuff. Once it is online—it is online now. Listen to that over and over and over again until you really get because without creating merit or punya, there is no oomph to our vows. Our vows are just empty words. We have to create the spiritual energy behind the words through all these spiritual practices.
I don't know if that really answered your question or not. Maybe I was too general. Maybe I could have given you something more specific. But, if you keep coming back, you'll get your answers, eventually.