Buddha statue quiet lake
Four Motifs in Nature to Help Our Practice
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Four Motifs in Nature to Help Our Practice (28 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
August 25, 2013 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you, dear friends, for your practice. Thank you, Gary, for your music, and Cornell for your wonderful flute, Bobbie for being here helping us all, and everybody else who helps with everything here. Thank you so much.

I went to a little nature place I sometimes go to for a couple of days this week, and I find that when I do that, my mind just gets more clear and my heart opens a little bit more, and I feel healthier in general. And sometimes insights just come more easily to me. So I would like to start off this talk—and I don't really know where it is going yet. I'm just going to trust the process. I'm going to start off with four things that came to my mind while I was in nature, and I thought about four elements in nature that are really wonderful pointers for our practice.

Now you already know about two that I use very, very often: mountain and sky, these two wonderful motifs. You know about that because I use it all the time to help us realize that we are not some weak small little self, that we are like a mountain. So this corresponds to the element of earth, and when we can practice with this motif of being like a mountain, being solid, stable, still, strong, majestic like a mountain, when we can get in touch with that truth in our practice, it is very helpful, because many times we feel like every little cloud of thought or sound or sensation just kind of throws us off, but that doesn't happen to a mountain. Clouds just cannot move a mountain, and so we can realize in our practice that we are not as flimsy as we think, as if we were clouds, but we're actually a mountain. Then we can just let the clouds come and go.

The second motif, as you know, is the sky, which is actually my favorite. The sky may correspond to the element of air perhaps, but the sky is spacious and actually infinite. And that is like our mind, our true mind. We are so identified with our small minds and all the little dramas of our small self, but when we practice deeply, we remember once again in small moments that we are actually this vastness. Who we really are is this vastness, the spaciousness, such clarity, this freedom like the sky. And clouds can come and go. There can be storms in the sky, yet it does not actually touch the sky. The sky just includes all of it. It is so inclusive. It just lets whatever is happening happen, and that is also an aspect of our practice.

Mindfulness is nonjudgmental awareness, and we just allow the clouds to just come and go. So, those who are new to the Center and new to meditation, I just want to give you a little helpful hint. When you are meditating, you're not trying to get rid of your thoughts. That would be like trying to get rid of the clouds. All you're doing is just—it is almost like trying to get rid of a fog. You know, you're in a fog, and you can't get rid of it. You're just making yourself frustrated. Rather, we just become like the sky, and clouds can be there coming and going, but we are not allowing it to bother us. It is just we are not trying to get concerned with the cloud to get into the drama of the clouds and going into stories around the clouds. We are just, okay, clouds. Keep on going. I am just present to self. I'm just awareness of self. I'm just spacious inclusivity itself. Breathing in and breathing out, here and now.

But what came to me is well, there are actually more motifs than two that we can draw from in our practice to correspond to the other elements, because it is not just earth and air, but also fire and water, right? So, if you like, you can also incorporate the motif of the sun shining, a beautiful sphere of life that gives more life to our solar system. The interesting thing about the sun is that it is always there shining, even though in our personal experience we may be going through daytime or nighttime, but even in nighttime the sun is still shining, isn't it? And even when it is very cloudy in the sky, dark, the sun is still shining. So that might be helpful for us in the practice, to realize that no matter what we are going through mentally, emotionally with our life, dramas, the sun, the light, the light of who we really are, the light of wisdom, the light of compassion, the light of our Buddha nature is always there, always shining whether we are in a nighttime low or a daytime high. And that is a wonderful truth to remember in our practice.

And then of course, there is also the fourth motif that can be utilized in the process, and this one was actually the very first one I heard of in my practice when I first heard a Dharma talk by our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh—the very first talk. He talked about the ocean and the waves on the ocean and how because our whole life we have been so identified as the small waves in the ocean, we have developed so much separation from the other waves. We have developed this idea that we are separate, and then when things go up and down, we just kind of allow ourselves to go up and down with everything and all the dramas of life, and we get scared because a wave is born, grows, and crashes and dies.

And so we become so afraid of being this wave that dies. We have all this fear of death. And we have all this concern about all of our little dramas and competition with other waves. But, when through our practice we remember that the wave is only made of water, and the wave is only an expression of the vast ocean, when we can drop down deep into the reality of who we really are beyond the small self into our true self, our big self, our big mind, if you will, big heart, our Buddha nature, that is the ocean. So we do not need to be so afraid for the notion of who we really are, there is no birth and no death. Who we really are it never is born, never dies. It is just simply beingness itself.

And even in the midst of our highs and lows emotionally and a low-energy, high-energy, or whatever is going on, the different dramas. We meet someone that we really like, and then we break up or whatever, or someone moves away or passes away or our job changes or we have to move to another location, another city. Just things keep changing. And in impermanence of the wavelike aspects of reality, through our practice we can go deeper into the ocean, which reminds us that we do not have to be afraid in the midst of the change, and it is also okay that we have fear. It is okay we have all the different emotions that we have because that is just the wavelike nature of physical reality. But those waves are always held in the love and the light and the vastness and the freedom of the ocean.

So, it is an nice—as Gary sang the song I've got peace like a River, I've got joy like a mountain, I've got love like the ocean. It is so nice to get in touch with that water element of reality. It really can be helpful. And to get in touch with the light or the fire element of reality and the air, spacious element of reality as well as the solid earth elements of reality. We can use these four aspects of reality to help us in our practice so that we can truly know ourselves as a mountain, solid. That we are the sky, so free. That we are the sun, always shining, no matter whether it is dark or light in our experience, and that deeper than the individual waves, the waves are always part of the ocean. So a wave may come and go, but who we really are is always present through all of it.

I would like to hear one more song from Gary, and then I will continue the second part of my dharma talk.

Gary sings "One Heart":

One Heart, One Life
We are One Family, One Earth
One Heart, One Life
We are One Family, One Earth

And together we can make a difference in our world
Every creed and color, every boy and girl
All of Creation, no separation
We are One, One Heart

And even though it seems we are so far apart
And many times we're feeling all alone
The truth of who we are has been here from the start
We are One Heart
["One Heart" available on Brother ChiSing's CD, Buddha Is My Refuge]

ChiSing: Are there any questions?

Audience Member: Can you talk more about fear?

ChiSing: Fear.

Audience Member: And fearlessness.

ChiSing: And fearlessness.

Audience Member: Yeah.

ChiSing: Well, what that makes me think of on this topic of fear and fearlessness or non-fear is that fear and non-fear are not opposing aspects of our experience. In Zen, they always like to do all this stuff, like suffering and non-suffering, enlightenment and non-enlightenment, and all of this. What it really means is that the deeper reality includes both the fear and the non-fear, meaning that it is not about opposition. Your small self is always going to experience fear from time to time. It is just what the small self does. Your true self, your deeper self, your big mind, your big heart, your Buddha nature—whatever you want to call it—your true self is the source of all fearlessness. It is in its very nature non-fear.

But here's the thing. If there is not in opposition—in fact, in your experience as a human being and, as a manifestation of the Buddha nature, as an individual self, you can actually feel fear and yet also be embraced by the fearlessness. So in other words, fearlessness or non-fear does not mean that you are not afraid. It is kind of like the idea of courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is when you feel the fear and you do it you need to do anyway, and so fearlessness does not mean that you are not feeling fear. You could be feeling fear, but something deeper, something greater, is allowed into your experience in that moment that carries you through to appropriate action in that moment.

So you can feel, have the emotion of fear present, and yet something else is also present, something deeper and stronger, the lion's roar of who you really are comes through. Even as the small self also has fear. So it is not one or the other, and it is not opposition. It is simultaneous. So—because you see, the waves in the ocean do not fight each other. They are just different aspects of the one reality, and so actually in our practice, unlike maybe some other systems of thought might have this idea of dualistic opposition, but in our true Zen practice, it is not about dualistic opposition. It is about whole relational connectivity and oneness. So everything is respected. The whole picture, the big picture, the one is respected as well as each little manifestation, individuality in the one. All of it is respected.

So when I was away in nature this week for a couple of days, one of the meditations that came to me one morning was I just had the sense of my heart just opening for a few seconds, and I just felt this gratitude of this vastness of reality and the oneness, the one, the big picture, and the Buddha nature. So I just said to myself, "One." And then I said, "Flower." And then, "One." And then, "Leaf." "One." "Grasshopper." "One." "Spider." "One." "Chair." "One." "Bark." I just did this for several minutes, and it was so amazing because it was an interesting exercise in the non-opposition of true reality, which is where everything is respected. We respect the whole big picture, the oneness, and we respect the manyness and the littleness and the individualness of the little forms, the many, many different forms. And in the same way, we can respect the vast, divine Buddha nature, strong, wise brilliant shining self or the true nature of the universe, but we can also honor and respect that we have human feelings also, that we each have fears, and that we sometimes feel sad and sometimes we feel anxious. Sometimes we feel bored. Sometimes we feel lost. Sometimes we don't know what is going on, but we can respect that as part of this wondrous crazy, messy, glorious experience called life.

And that is one thing I have learned so much from the Buddhist tradition is this practice of respect—not that I have perfected it, but I love seeing this aspect when I see those who are really deeply engaged in Buddhism, like when I go to a monastery, or when I go to a country that is steeped in Buddhism, everywhere you go, they are always bowing. They are bowing—and when people bow to the Buddha statue on the altar, it is a symbol of bowing to the one true nature of all. But we do not just bow to the Buddha statue on the altar, which symbolizes Buddha bowing to the one. We also bow to each other. And Buddhists bow to trees, they bow to cats, they bow to rivers, they bow to the grass, they bow to the sun. They bow to everything, and this is expressing as truth. Not only do we bow to the oneness, the grandness, the greatness, the glorious mess, but we bow to the crazy little messy individualnesses of all the expressions, every single one. This is called true respect, and in our practice, we must have both aspects respected.

You know, we don't just respect mind. We also respect body, even though if ultimately mind is primary and body is secondary—yet in our practice, we must bow and respect the mind and the body. We do not neglect the body in our practice, and in the same way, we do not push away the manyness, the aspects of form just because we also bow deeply to the one, the source, the wholeness. Actually, we can go astray in our practice when we only respect one and not the other. What happens when you only respect the one, the source, the emptiness, the grandness and not the little aspects and expressions of the many and the individual? What happens is you become very arrogant. You become very cold hearted. You become very distant and uncaring.

But what happens on the other end, if you're very, very much involved in the littlenesses, and you are just constantly so involved in all different waves, in all the different experiences, in all the different dramas, what happens? And you are not also aware of the oneness of it, but just—many times what happens is we get caught up in the emotions. We get caught up in the drama. We get—we feel overwhelmed and drowned by the experiences, the manynesses of life because we also need to have—to step back a little and have a big picture, broad perspective so that the little suffering we may be going through doesn't become everything. It is just one part.

So, it is important to bow deeply to respect not only our Buddha nature but also our human nature, to bow and respect not only the one, but also the part. And also not only to bow to the fearlessness of our true nature, but also to bow with a smile to the fears that occur in our human nature. All of it needs to be respected, bowed to, included. That is what true unity and wholeness is, not dualistic competition or separation. Now, these are just words. But they're pointing us in the direction together in our practice. I certainly have not attained the fullness of that kind of teaching, but that is why we practice, so that together we can continually learn how to respect everything, all aspects in our life.

So please honor and respect the one, the source, the true nature, the divine, spirit, the whole, the big picture, but also honor and respect the beauty of your sadness, the beauty of your fear, the beauty of whatever you are going through. And remember that any little thing you're going through is always held in the arms of the vastness, the infinite light, the truth of who we really are. Thank you very much for your practice.


Transcribed by Jessica Hitch