Buddha statue quiet lake
Nurturing Your Mindfulness Practice
Listen to this talk:
Nurturing Your Mindfulness Practice (35 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
September 29, 2013 - Dallas, Texas

So, I would like to ask all of you just to tell me what is going on, just in one sentence. What is going on with your spiritual practice, your spiritual questions, your spiritual needs? Let us see what happens. Yes?

Audience Member: One of the things I'm struggling with is just having a more consistent practice, not just practicing every day but… [inaudible]

ChiSing: Okay. Great. Well, there are 3 things I usually teach people about how they can reshape their lifestyle to be a more mindful lifestyle, and I call it the rhythm method. It is basically that we want to do our best to have some mindfulness in a daily way. For some people, that means making an intention, creating an altar at home, because whenever you see that altar, it reminds you to be mindful, to practice, and that you have a lot of support. You can put pictures of your teachers, your ancestors, animals, plants, whatever you like that reminds you of how the universe, nature, and all of our spiritual teachers support us. You can put whatever you want on the altar.

And then of course there are traditional ways to make altars, if you want to read up on traditional ways, like a traditional Buddhist way, there are certain principles also. But it does not matter. Just do it however you like. You can do any kind of altar you want. So having your altar in your home, creating that sacred space, it creates an energy, and it helps open up the space to remember your practice. Also, if you want a daily practice, there are different things for different people. Not everyone is at the same place at the same time in their life, so some of you may actually be ready to do sitting meditation for 20 to 40 to 60 minutes every morning or whenever you can. That is great if you're at that place, but you should not feel ashamed if that is not where you're at right now. The Buddha offered many practices. Not everyone was at a place where they could do that kind of intensive meditation every day.

So there are other things you can do. You can say certain recitations, prayers, affirmations, readings, maybe for 5 to 10 minutes in front of your altar and bowing, lighting a candle, lighting incense, doing a simple, short ritual—maybe just for 5 minutes. You can also do chanting practice. This is actually one of the most popular practices in Eastern Buddhism, because most people have not had the kind of time to do that long meditation every day, so they chant maybe for 5 or more minutes. They do the chanting, and then they chant in their minds silently throughout the rest of the day whenever they think about it. So you can choose a long chant or a short chant. A long one could be the Medicine Buddha chant. A short one could just be Amitabha or Namo Amitabha or Namo Amitabha Buddhaya or Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya or Om Ami Dewa Hri. There are many. Om Mani Padme Hum, etcetera. Just choose something that resonates with you. Maybe it is not even a Buddhist one. It could be in the tradition of your background if you prefer. You can choose something from another tradition that resonates with your heart, that helps get in touch with the core spiritual nature of your being.

And also it is important not just to do the formal practice, but also throughout the day just to find moments to take 3 simple mindful breaths, to not rush like I did and get a ticket. But if you do get a ticket, just smile and love. Be mindful. You have to pay attention to the laws as well. I smiled at the police officer and said, "Thank you for doing your job, and I appreciate you for doing your job." Then he smiled and was really happy with me. He was like, "I hope you have a good rest of your day."

So, it is important to practice mindfulness in moments throughout the day. You can practice a moment of mindfulness in washing the dishes, in opening the door, in walking to the bathroom, in turning on an appliance, in giving a hug. Thich Nhat Hanh likes to recommend that when the phone rings, do not answer it immediately. Wait to breathe 1, 2, or 3 times, and then pick up the phone. Or 3 rings or something like that. So you can utilize different things throughout the day as signals of mindfulness, like the red lights and the telephone. We have a bell here, and these can be other kinds of bells.

So, that is our daily practice. And then—that's part 1 of the 3 parts. The second part is a weekly practice with a community. And I cannot stress this enough. If you cannot be a part of a weekly meditation community at least once a week, the bare minimum I think for really being nourished by this kind of practice is once a month. In the Buddhist time, the laypeople always came together twice a month on the full moon and the new moon, and that is how they were able to measure time and all of that. So that was easy, because you could see when it was full moon and new moon. So that is twice a month. I personally think in our modern times, it needs to be more than twice a month, like once a week, which is 4 times a month, because of our crazy American lifestyle. It is just much more stressful than it was 2,500 years ago. So I think we need it more. So I really think once a week is a minimum.

When I started practicing—and I am different, in the sense that I do not expect everyone to do what I did—but I had 3 to 4 sanghas a week. One that I led and 2 or 3 that I just attended. Two that I really attended really regularly, one just once in a while. I always had a backup plan, because if I am away on vacation or I missed something because I am sick or whatever reason, I still had other choices. So that is why at Dallas Meditation Center, we have different choices for you. Sunday is our main community group, and I hope almost everyone can come on Sundays at least once a month, but if you can't come on Sunday, you can come on other days. And of course we're not the only center for meditation in the Dallas area. There are others. Please enjoy what they have to offer as well if what we have here is not working for your schedule.

And the secret of this weekly practice is that it's not just for you. It is definitely for you, because I've noticed that people who attend sangha regularly, they progress on the path much quicker and deeper and more solidly. I see that. But it is not just for you. It is also for the community, because without you, we are not full of the light because we're missing your light. Now you might think, what do I have to offer? Well, that is why we practice, because it is a sign that there is not enlightenment about who you really are. Because if you really knew who you really are, you would realize what a light you are. Your presence has such a powerful impact on people. So all of you are important and all of you contribute to the sangha, even if you do not say a word. If you just come here with your hearts and even if you are suffering, but you're just sitting here, making the time to just practice, that makes a difference. That really does, and it shines a light and supports others. It also makes me happy, because when I see people regularly and I see familiar faces, it makes me happy. Because I may come across as an extrovert, but actually there's part of me that is very introverted. If I start seeing very unfamiliar faces every single weekend, it is always different faces, I feel a little bit—I don't feel as bright and open because I am—part of me is a little bit scared, like where are all my friends? Where are all the people I know? So it does help me when I see regular faces here.

And then the third practice—so, daily meditation at home or practice at home and then weekly practice with the group. By the way, have you ever noticed how when you do come to the group practices, it just really helps you a lot, and then it's not as good only on your own? Yeah. You've noticed that too? So there is a power there. And then the third practice is going on retreat from time to time. And I noticed that most of us here have not yet gone to a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, and I know it is hard sometimes because it's a lot of time to take away and a lot of money as well, but if you ever do have the time and the money, you can also ask for a 50% scholarship if you need it. You just have to mail them 6 months in advance before they get booked, because a thousand people go to these retreats, and they get booked months in advance. I couldn't go because they got booked unfortunately because I didn't apply in time. It doesn't matter that I am Brother ChiSing.

So, give yourself the gift of retreat. If you cannot do that kind of weeklong retreat or 10-day retreat, go to a weekend retreat. There is a weekend retreat coming up in just one month, and we're going to have a weekend retreat in nature about an hour and a half north of here, and it is wonderful, a wonderful experience. We also have one-day retreats once in a while, and then every month we have a half-day morning retreats. So give yourself the gift, because what a retreat does, it gives you a longer time to process things, a longer time to go deeper in meditations, and a longer time to allow insight to arise. You know? Because a lot of times, we are just practicing, and just at the end we have a breakthrough, but it is over. So that is why when we practice for longer periods, we have a lot more time to really go deep and allow the breakthrough to occur.

So, I really recommend that you try to go to retreats from time to time, at least a bare minimum once a year, but more if you can. And these 3 work together, daily, weekly, and occasionally. Personal practice, group practice, and retreat practice. These support each other, and when you do all 3, it creates a powerful energy that is much harder to stop. It is a lot easier to be consistent when all 3 of these things are in place. So you may need a retreat to encourage you to be consistent. You may need some deep, powerful experience, a breakthrough with others and a guide to help you really get in touch, break open your heart, break open the tears, open the heart, feel the energy of the cosmos, and then that encourages you if you want to keep carrying on.

But if you only go to retreat—which I don't think any of you here are like that, because you are here—but there are some people that I know that went to like the Thich Nhat Hanh retreat, that never come to weekly sangha. And I tried to ask them, "I know you love going to these retreats. Could you come and be a part of the sangha and give your energy to the sangha? Or do you just go to the retreats?" But they don't. That's okay. That is just where they are at, and I accept that. But when you have these beautiful opening experiences at retreat and then you grounded in daily practice and weekly community, you help so many people, and that grounds you in the practice. Otherwise, you're just having a high from the retreat, and then you have to wait a year until the next retreat, you know? It doesn't really make much of a difference or an impact. It is just a nice experience you have, a nice memory, but it doesn't really make a big difference for others and for yourself. It might a little bit, but it would make more difference if you also added the ingredients of the daily or weekly.

And the other is true. If you only do your daily practice, that is great. That is wonderful. But, you also need retreats to help you accelerate in the practice. I remember it was very sad for me to leave this workshop one time, and everyone was sharing around the circle, and one person who is about 80 years old had said that—I think it was that he had been practicing meditation for 40 years, and he said, "But I've never had a breakthrough. I never had a breakthrough." But you could tell that he was the most kind, gentle, loving, study, solid human being, a good, good man, a spiritual man, a holy person. So the daily practice, that is what it does. It gives you steadiness, stability, consistency. But the retreats help give it that oomph to have those breakthroughs, and unfortunately he did not have any retreat experiences, and so he never had a breakthrough. So I encouraged him to go to more retreats. Because what happens is you are steadily practicing and then you go to retreat, and you have a breakthrough. Because you are practicing daily, it sustains you until the next breakthrough, whereas when you do not practice daily, you may have a breakthrough at a retreat, but then you crash and it doesn't really go anywhere.

So, of these 3, daily, weekly, and retreat practice, the most important one in my opinion is the second one, the weekly community practice. The reason why I say that is because if you can just commit to supporting a community, supporting the sangha, supporting the meditation group, which supports yourself as well, every week or at least once a month, it will always keep reminding you to practice daily. It will always encourage you to practice daily, and it will make it easier for you to practice daily, and you will hear about retreats during announcements of these communities. So you get everything if you practice the second one, the weekly practice with the community.

Okay. So there are probably more answers to your question, but is that good enough for now? Okay. All right. Other questions? Yes?

Audience Member: Could you give a few sentences to introduce each of the spiritual practices we will be working through in the next few months?

ChiSing: Okay. Some of the fundamentals I want to go over that I think are important are obviously the Four Noble Truth of suffering and wellbeing that the Buddha taught and the eightfold path of enlightenment that the Buddha taught. Also I will talk about the 4 qualities of the enlightened heart: love, joy, compassion, and equanimity. I also want to talk about the 6 states of consciousness: anywhere from the heavenly realms of consciousness to the hellish realms of consciousness, you know? Because we go through all kinds of things in our minds and in our lifetimes, so to talk about that and how understanding that from just a literal level, a symbolic level, and the psychological level—we will just be looking at them in different ways—can really help us to access our karma, our actions, and consequences of actions.

I also want to talk about what Amitabha means to me and what it can mean for you. I can also talk about what Medicine Buddha means. And I can also talk about what are the differences between all the different schools of Buddhism. It is kind of confusing, isn't it? What are the differences and what are the similarities and what is it that we practice, you know? Well, even if you have not settled into one practice yet, I still think it is valuable to do what you know to do, because ultimately you have to trust the Buddha that you are, right? All the other Buddhas are just giving you suggestions. Only you are the Buddha for you.

Audience Member: One thing I struggle with is that I am going through this spiritual transformation, which kind of puts me in a position to question other things in my life, like the career I have chosen, and where I find conflict is that it is not really in line with all the other things that I want to do and it does not give me a sense of joy and stuff. So I want to know how I can use my practice to help figure out—because I want a more purposeful job, career, whatever that may be, and I think there is some fear in me on how to move forward and what do I want and need to know. Is there a spiritual teaching I can help with me figuring that out? It's a big part for me.

ChiSing: Right. I understand that one. Everybody can relate. Yeah. Yeah. We are all struggling in this life to figure out things, right? What is my purpose? What is my mission? What am I to do, and how do I go about doing it? Well, I do believe that this kind of practice can shed a lot of light on all areas of our life, including our work life. The main thing that this practice does is it gets us in touch with our inner wisdom and universal cosmic guidance—whatever you want to call it—your inner Buddha, your inner wisdom. Because, you know, I personally believe that there is constantly guidance offered to us, both from within our being and from spiritual energies and beings who are invisibly whispering in our years, or however you want to visualize it. It doesn't matter how you see it or think of it, but there are different ways you can interpret it. Anyway, I really do believe there is constantly guidance from within and without always.

But, through this kind of practice, we are able to hear more, listen more, and just discern better. So, it may not be right away, but do this practice over a consistent period of time. It you are just more receptive to the guidance that is already there for you, and also do not be afraid that, oh man, I don't think I listened to my guidance earlier. Even the mistakes you make are part of your path. Raise your hand if you're a human being. If you are a human being, Mistakes and challenges are part of our path. It is not a mistake that we have mistakes. That is the wonderful good news. So having the opportunity to make mistakes is actually part of our path of learning. We will not learn unless we make mistakes, unless we can make choices and then see what the consequences are and learn from them, right? So it is not a mistake that we have mistakes. That is part of our life. So don't worry about that. Phew. That is a new mantra. Phew.

So, how many people have made mistakes in their life? So, we are on this planet earth to learn and to grow, to make mistakes, and to keep on keeping on and to learn about ourselves through all the things we do and choose and create. So that is part of our path. One of the nice things about this practice is that especially when our path starts getting more difficult and more challenging and there is more suffering at certain points, it is not like permanent. It is just that at certain points, it feels like this is taking forever to go through this. The nice thing about this practice is if you do have a breakthrough, a very deep breakthrough experience, and insight from this practice, you realize that this is all impermanent and temporary, and who you really are is not caught up in all of this drama, but who you are is so much bigger than all of this drama. When you know that, it just makes it a little easier to be going through all of this stuff. You know? That is one of the wonderful things about this practice. It just makes it easier to go through. It does not take away the drama necessarily, but it makes it easier to go through it and hopefully go through it mindfully and to really learn something from everything we go through.

Yeah. You know, one time I was going to give a talk, and I was going to title it, "Enlightenment isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Enlightenment is not what it is all cracked up to be." What I meant by that humorous title was that—and I don't know what it's like to have full enlightenment, but just a glimpse of enlightenment, I have had 1 or 2 of those experiences. It was so wonderful to remember who I really am, which is not this body-mind, and it was so joyful for a few weeks. But, you know, after that experience started to integrate and I came back to just a more normal kind of thinking and behaving and everything, I still had to take the trash out. I still had to do the laundry. I still had to work on my shadow stuff. I still had to practice, you know?

So, I still had to deal with people's stuff. I was about to say another S word, but this is being recorded. So, you know, enlightenment doesn't mean it takes away all the problems. If you think that is what it means, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but that is not what enlightenment is about. So enlightenment does not take away all of the problems, but it does give you a different perspective, a deeper perspective, a higher perspective, a perspective that can give you peace in the midst of the storm and the chaos. You can feel fear and anxiety and sadness and frustration and all of that and still be at the core of your heart peaceful. It is possible, and I hope most of us have at least experienced it one time so far. If not, I am sure you will experience it at some point soon. It is possible to have that sense of deep—maybe you don't want to call it peace. Maybe that is not the word that you would use, but it is this sense of deep knowingness, validity, some kind of like a deep confidence, even if things are not happening the way you would like it to, but you feel strong in them. So that is possible. Yes?

Audience Member: This is a great topic, but since you mentioned how—you mentioned working on your shadow work. I am currently looking at how to be—what it takes to be comfortable with don't know mind, what it takes to help solidity when a person recognizes that their life the way they have been living it is not working, and it is time for making change, and it is all uncertain, kind of the way it is sometimes when someone dies or when any major risk happens in your life, and there is a lot that is unknown. The tendency of the ego is to go into the future or the past into fear, and so, I am inviting better awareness of being able to keep walking the path in a don't know place and how don't know can be a good place.

ChiSing: Yeah. Don't know mind, as it is called and Zen, you know, just cultivating that ability to just rest in don't-know mind. That is important. But what's important about don't-know mind is that when you cultivate resting in that place, it is just about being deeply present, you know? Not trying to figure it all out, understand what happened in the past, try to project into the future, but really just be in the moment, to whatever is happening, be with the person right in front of you right now, be with what is going on. Just be present. That is what don't know mind means, because when you let go of trying to figure it out, you are just open and honestly a little curious. I am here. You are here. Okay. What is this? It is very powerful when you really can practice that.

And as far as shadow work, you know, meditation practice does not always help us with our shadow work. Sometimes it can—

Audience Member: What is shadow work?

ChiSing: Shadow work means to deal with the parts of yourself that you don't like to look at or to deal with the parts of yourself that you suppress or repress or that you judge or deny.

Audience Member: Can you sign up for that?

ChiSing: Well, there are some meditation communities that learn how to integrate some of these practices into the meditation practices, but there are not very many, and I don't know which groups in Dallas do that sort of thing. I know some places in other states and cities. But if you don't find that in this or another community, you can always go directly to some practice that does deal directly with that. For example, 12-step is a form of working with your shadow. Psychotherapy is a form of working with your shadow. Certain kinds of men's groups, like when I went to this weekend to a big intensive weekend. It was called Mankind Project, and I highly recommend it for any man to go to to, especially younger men and older men. It is all good at any point in your life, but it really does help you face things, face your fears, face your anger, and I did my first sweat lodge, which was kind of cool. I was afraid, like what am I doing? And right before we went in, the motto was, "It is a good day to die." Just go in there and face your fear of death. But it is more of a spiritual death, you know? And it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. My fear was worse than what the actual reality was. It was very cleansing, detoxifying.

Audience Member: Is shadow ego?

ChiSing: Shadow is parts of the ego. Yeah. But anyway. Okay. I think I only have time for one more question. What's really burning—who's really needing—okay.

Audience Member: Well, I find also that shadow work, when you're part of a sangha, you get some of your shadow work done just by interacting with people that can point out your weaknesses—or it is not all about that, but weaknesses and strengths.

ChiSing: Mm-hmm. And you start seeing your projections.

Audience Member: Yeah. Like, look at that. Look at your buddies.

ChiSing: Yes. Yes. Right.

Audience Member: That's the value of sangha?

ChiSing: That is true, but the only thing is in these lay communities sanghas, we only see each other once a week, and we do not always go that deep. That is why the Buddha recommended that people become monks and nuns, because they have the monastery. You live there, and you're always with these others every day, so you really get to work on your stuff and community. What we do as a layperson it's a little bit lighter, but it can still be done if you commit. But since we do not see each other every day and we do not live together, we do not do as much of that kind of work together.

Audience Member: ChiSing?

ChiSing: Yes?

Audience Member: From my understanding, if we're talking about the same thing, that is where a lot of your creativity comes from also, from your shadow.

ChiSing: That's true. That's true.

Audience Member: It is very creative.

ChiSing: In fact, I believe and many other wiser teachers than me have said the greater your suffering—which includes your shadow aspects of yourself—the greater your suffering, the greater your enlightenment.

Audience Member: Don't just jump in there, though.

ChiSing: You do not need to add more suffering. You already have enough.

Okay. It is about time to end. Thank you very much for just sitting together and listening to each other and to me. I apologize that I didn't get to practice meditation with you beforehand. But I did a lot of work this weekend in other kinds of ways. So, I feel happy that I can speak from that energy.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch