Buddha statue quiet lake
Joyful Practice in Everyday Life
Listen to this talk:
Joyful Practice in Everyday Life (29 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Terry Cortes-Vega
March 16, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

So, the Buddha said that everything he taught was just one thing. He only taught one thing throughout his whole teaching career, and that was the Four Noble Truths. You know, the first one: suffering happens. It is something like that. The bumper sticker that we used to have, more or less like that. Suffering happens. And the second Noble Truth is that there are always causes for suffering. It did not just plop down for no reason. And then the third Noble Truth is stop creating your suffering, and then the fourth Noble Truth, the Buddha said, "So, let me tell you eight things to do that will help you transform your unhappiness, your suffering, into happiness." And that is those right things, you know, right view, right thought, right speech, and so on. Eight things.

And then at another time in his teachings, he said, "Now I'm going to share with you seven things that you can use to transform your unhappiness to happiness, seven factors of awakening. And then next time," he said, "I'm going to tell you six things, six paramitas. This will help you." You can see how the Buddha was just devoted to us, really passionate about our transforming our unhappiness into happiness. And then he said, "Now here are five things that you can do, the five precepts. I want you to do these. If you do these, you will be happy." And then at another time, he said, "Here are four things that you can do to be happy, changing the peg."

But tonight, I would like to share with you three things that the Buddha said that we can do, very concrete, practical things we can do to transform our suffering. When the Buddha said suffering, he said dukha, and that means suffering on the long continuum from I am a little bit sad that I missed South by Southwest to horrible pain and despair and depression and fear and anger. So when I say suffering, I mean all of those things.

So, these three ways, three tools that we can use to transform our unhappiness into happiness are found in the sutra that is really rarely spoken about in the West. I have never heard a dharma talk on this sutra, but it is my understanding that it is a very popular sutra in China. In fact, it was the first Buddhist literature translated into China. So the name of the sutra is "The Sutra of 42 Sections." I think we can tell from that title that the guys who are making up titles are running out of cute titles, like "The Better Way to Catch a Snake" is the name of one of the sutras. "The White-Clad Disciple" is another, and "A Better Way to Live Alone." But this one is "The Sutra of 42 Sections."

You might be relieved to know that we are not going to talk about all 42 sections, but instead just one of the 42, the 33rd section where he talks about those three ways. So I would like to read just the opening verse of the 33rd section of the 42 sections.

"The Buddha said, ‘Those who follow the way are likened to warriors who fight single-handedly a multitude of folks. They may all go out of the fort in full armor, but among them are some who are fainthearted and some who will go halfway and beat a retreat, some who are killed, and some who come home victorious. Oh monks, if you desire to attain enlightenment, you should steadily walk in your way with a resolute heart, with courage. You should be fearless in whatever environment you may happen to be and destroy every evil influence that you may come across. For thus you will reach the goal.'"

So we are not even going to look at that whole big long the 33rd section. We're just going to look at the part that contains those three ways to transform our unhappiness. He called it enlightenment. He said if you desire to attain enlightenment. We could also say true happiness. If you desire to attain true happiness, you should steadily walk in your way with a resolute heart, with courage, and should be fearless.

So the Buddha said that first one, walk steadily. So what he is telling us there is we have an unhappiness, and actually, I would like you to think now of an unhappiness, a suffering, some dukha, that is recent for you, maybe happening to you today, tonight, but some kind of unhappiness, recent unhappiness in your life. So when we go through these three tools that the Buddha offered, you can put each one in the context of your particular suffering, your particular dukha, and test it out and see if he really knows what he is talking about, that these are three ways that really will help you in your specific particular unhappiness.

So he says, "Walk steadily." That is the first thing he says. So what the Buddha is inviting us to do there is keep moving. You have some anger, some fear, some grief, some disappointment, keep moving. Do not get stuck in it. Do not keep telling yourself that story over and over and over. It will not do you any good. It will not transform your unhappiness. So keep moving from whatever it is that is hurting you. He says, "Walk steadily."

So he is saying do not run away from it. Do not hide from your unhappiness. Do not distract yourself. And we do that, you know? We do distract ourselves. We do run away. We do hide. We watch TV. We mess with e-mails. We go post things on Facebook or look at what somebody else posted on Facebook or we Twitter or tweet or whatever you call that or we eat or we drink or we take drugs or we smoke or we sleep or we keep ourselves very, very busy working. So the Buddha is saying if you want to transform your unhappiness, don't run away from it. Don't hide from it. Don't distract yourself.

So he said, "Walk steadily." He is using that word steadily. He says, "Cut the drama, moor yourself. Don't freak out because you are unhappy." Remember that first Noble Truth? Unhappiness happens. He is saying, "Instead, go to that steady part of yourself." Now, when I am unhappy, when I am driving in big traffic, and the wind is blowing 25 miles an hour, and my head is not totally straight, I don't feel steady. In fact, I feel really wobbly. But the Buddha is saying, "Go back to that steadiness in yourself."

Now, the Buddha would not ask me to do something, to touch something that I do not have. So that must mean that I have steadily in me. I am solid like a mountain. Now the Buddha we are talking about is not the fellow that lived 2,600 years ago. It is not that Buddha. It is the Buddha of wisdom that is in us. It is our own Buddha nature that is telling us, "Go back to what is solid. Go back to what is steady. You can do it." So that is the Buddha's first tool. Walk steadily.

His second tool is with a resolute heart. Walk steadily with a resolute heart. So the Buddha is saying, "You have this steadfastness about you. You have this unwavering about you. Go and touch it. Be firm like the earth." And so I say, "Really? I have a resolute heart?" "Yes, you do," my Buddha nature says. And I know it is true because if I look back at other times when my environment has been hard, I've gotten through it. I have had other suffering, and I have gotten through it, and not just survived it. I have gotten through it and been the better for it. So I can go back to my resolute heart with this particular unhappiness that I am experiencing.

And then the Buddha's third tool is to have courage, be fearless. Now, courage seems like something the Buddha could do or Thich Nhat Hanh could do, but me, not so courageous, not so brave. It seems like such a lofty word to me. And so I looked it up in the dictionary, and I saw that some of the definitions of courage include moxie, spunk, true grit. Okay, Buddha. Now you're talking. I can go back to moxie. I can go back to spunk. And when I do, it makes me feel fresh. It cheers me up. It makes me cheerful.

So, those are the three tools that the Buddha offered. I would like us now to take just a little bit of time, three or four or five breaths, we'll take, and bring those three tools to this particular, specific unhappiness that you are experiencing now or recently, and see if walking steadily with a resolute heart, with courage and fearlessness will help you transform it. So let us just take a few moments together. Okay.

I find it is pretty easy for me when I am—what does he call it? In whatever environment you may happen to be. It is pretty easy for me to walk steadily and with a resolute heart and courage when my environment is like this one, very friendly and sweet. It is just when the other stuff comes, as it takes a little bit more diligence, little bit more conscious effort to pull up those three tools.

Now, we can think of some other words, some other tools to deal with our unhappiness, to transform it into happiness. One that comes up to me is curiosity, and I imagine our new friends who are here for the first time, part of the reason you came today maybe is out of curiosity, a really wonderful tool for working with our unhappiness.

Another I would suggest is relax. And my teacher—our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers another tool. He is a real slave driver. He says, "Embrace your suffering." Aah! Well, here is what he says: "The tendency to run away from suffering is there in every one of us. We think by seeking pleasure, we will avoid suffering, but this does not work. It stunts our growth and our happiness. Getting in touch with suffering will help us cultivate compassion and love. Without understanding and love, we cannot be happy, and we cannot make other people happy. We all have the seeds of compassion, forgiveness, joy, and non-fear in us. If we are constantly trying to avoid suffering, then there is no way for these seeds to grow."

So the 13th century Sufi mystic theologian Rumi says about the same thing in this poem that you may be very familiar with, "The Guest House." "This being human is a guesthouse. Every morning, a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all. Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond."

So we can receive the teachings of the Buddha by reading his sutras, which are difficult for some of us. Or we can receive the Buddha's teachings from a listening to a dharma talk. Or we can receive the Buddha's teachings from a poem. Or another wonderful way that our brother is really, really, really good at is by singing. We can sing the practice songs.

When I was a little girl, I went to church with my Mamaw at the First Baptist Church of Houston, and man, did they have great practice songs, like "Amazing Grace," and one of my favorites, "Church in the Wildwood." Mamaw and I used to sing and my daddy, too. Mamaw and my daddy and I would sing really wonderful practice songs. The songs teach what the sutras teach.

Now, some people think that some of the Buddhist practice songs are a little wimpy, but if you just sing them as if they were a pop song, I can see that you would be disappointed. But they are teaching. They are the Buddha's teachings in the song. So, Brother, could we sing, "Breathing In, Breathing Out"?

ChiSing: Yes.

Terry: Okay.

ChiSing: For those who do not know the song, I will do a few lines but I will just repeat. And if you like, we can do it with hand motions to get in touch with our inner child and also to teach our children when we do it. So, take a deep breath. (Everyone sings) Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out.

I guess everybody just knows it, so follow along. (Everyone sings) I am blooming as a flower. I am fresh as the dew. I am solid as a mountain. I am firm as the earth. I am free. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out. I am water reflecting what is real, what is true. And I feel there is space deep inside of me. I am free. I am free. I am free.

Terry: So I am blooming like a flower. I am fresh and cheerful like a flower. I am solid as a mountain. I am firm as the earth. And that is what makes me free from all my afflictions, all my unhappiness. I am free, free, free.

Well, we have a little bit of time to share, and this is my favorite part of our sangha gathering, where people are willing to teach us by sharing your experience. So I invited you earlier to take these three tools and apply them to some specific little or big suffering that is happening for you now, and if you would like to help us, we would so appreciate your sharing of that experience.

For our new friends, when we want to talk, we put our hands together, and we bow. And we all bow back to you saying, "Oh, we are so happy you want to talk. We want to listen." And then we really listen, and when you are finished, you just have to bow, and then we know that you are through. The wonderful thing about this is that we will not interrupt you, so you can take a pause and nobody will slip in until you bow out.

ChiSing: Thank you everyone. You know, whenever someone is speaking, even though not everyone had a chance to say something, could you hear part of yourself in whatever someone was sharing? I certainly did. So part of our practice is to know that when someone is speaking, it is not just, oh, I just have to bear through listening to someone else. No. It is actually a practice of seeing how they are actually a part of you, so it is actually looking at yourself in another person speaking. You can see it that way, and you won't reject this part of the practice.

I know some people have e-mailed me and said, "I love meditation. I love the chanting. But I cannot stand it when everyone has to share, and I am like how long are they going to talk?" Or whatever. They're not getting the point. This is also part of the practice, non-dual listening to realize oneness and non-separation between self and other. So, keep practicing.

But I do want to share one last thing. Yesterday I was having a very, very hard day emotionally. That happens about once a week for whatever reason. Sometimes it just happens. I had an insight from the practice today about that yesterday because I noticed that—you know your walk resolutely? Well, the problem was when I was going through my emotional detox. I call it an emotional detox. I'm just having a day where I am just being with the blah, just being with it, and it is not always pleasant. But the secret is to make sure I don't start talking to a lot of people while I'm going through that.

See, I was not walking resolutely. I was talking, and that is not always good, because then I'm not always necessarily my best at speaking mindfully when I'm going through my stuff. So that was good to have that insight today, so when I'm going through my emotional detox withdrawal, don't talk to people on e-mail or text and just be with healing with it, be with it. So that is something, a good insight for me as I'm going through emotional detox. And maybe some of you are hearing yourself right now as I am speaking, right? So maybe some of you can relate. You can lose a lot of friends that way when you talk through your emotional detox. Just get through it first, and then you can share with others. Yeah.

Terry: Actually, that is a really good point because when we are talking, we are really reinforcing stuff. It is not even that you spook your friends. That probably didn't happen. But, the more we tell our story, the bigger the story gets, and then therefore, we have this much to transform instead of maybe this much to transform. So being steady, cutting the drama, mooring ourselves. It is our intention that matters, so if we are just telling the story for the dramatic effect, which that is what I do a lot, or just to convince myself I am the right one, if I tell it enough times, surely everyone will understand how dumb those people are. But if I'm telling it as a way of asking for help, then that is nurturing.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

▲ Return to Top