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One Moon, Many Reflections
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One Moon, Many Reflections (30 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Helen Cortes
July 20, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

One moon, many reflections. Or many reflections, one moon. That is a saying from one of the Japanese Zen masters, and unfortunately, I cannot remember who wrote it. However, if you look at the image, one moon, many reflections, what does that mean that we are trying to see or to discover in our lives?

What I can see happening here at the Dallas Meditation Center is there are just so many meditation forms, and I am really very impressed by the number of people who show up. We have the Tibetan group and we have the Zen group. We have the Awakening group, and some other groups. So these are all the many reflections of that moon that we are seeking. But regardless of the way or regardless of the reflections that we are trying to follow in order to have a glimpse of that light of that moon, it does not matter. One is not better than the other.

And so it is such a welcoming feeling to be able to come here and share with you my own tradition, which is of course the Zen tradition. And I was fortunate to have been appointed teacher 2 years ago. And just as correction to Bobbie's introduction, I am not one of the directors. I am the executive director, and I am one of the teachers at the Maria Kannon Zen Center, and I believe Ruben, my teacher, was here a couple of weeks ago.

Just an observation. When we were doing the walking meditation, it was so nice to hear what Bobbie explained, that when we are walking, it is not trying to get anywhere really. Very, very correct. In the Zen tradition, we sit for 25 minutes, and then we also do a walking meditation for 5 minutes. And somehow we always try to recall Thich Nhat Hanh's instruction in washing the dishes. I'm sure you've heard that story, right? Have you heard that story? Okay.

For the sake of those who have never heard this story, Thich Nhat Hanh says there are 2 ways of washing dishes. The first is we wash the dishes in order to make them clean, correct? And that is how we do everything in our daily life. We go to school, like elementary, middle school, high school, and college. Why do we do that? In order to, of course, have an education. And when you have an education, of course, you can land a job, and then after that what is the next step? Probably some of us will get married and have families. Some of us will have partners. Some of us will decide to live a single life.

And then the next question follows then. Is this all there is to it? That is the bigger question that we ask ourselves. And why is it that people are drawn to this kind of practice, this way of practice? Because at a certain point in our lives, we start questioning: Who am I? What is my true self? Is there life after death? So so many questions but somehow we think we have the answers, or we've always been so programmed into answering questions in the logical discursive mind.

But in the practice of meditation, you will realize the answers will manifest themselves in a very unique way, not necessarily in the logical way, not necessarily in the discursive manner. So I go back to Thich Nhat Hanh. He says the other way of washing the dishes is simply to wash the dishes. So if you look at the difference, the first one is to wash the dishes in order to make them clean, and then Thich Nhat Hanh says you wash the dishes simply to wash the dishes. Is he saying then that you can wash the dishes in a lackadaisical manner, not making it clean anymore? That is not the point of Thich Nhat Hanh.

So in the same manner as your walking or even sitting. When you are walking, of course, you take a step. When you take a step, it is not taking the step in order to get to the next step. And that is our problem in our daily life, because we are always in the dualistic mode of the subject/object duality. From here to get there. So how then do we approach that walking meditation? Thich Nhat Hanh's way would then be just take a step. Just wash the dishes. And if you can really take all of these things to heart, then you really come to that experience of that non-duality, wherein probably you can come to the point of just washing the dishes, just taking a step, and that is what happens after several years of sitting.

So what I would like to talk about today is the way of tea. Of course, it is so far out for my introduction of taking a step, but in this practice, we talk about the way, but when we talk about the way, there are not certain prescriptions for certain steps given in getting or arriving at something. So in the tea ceremony, which of course started in Japan or probably in China, Rikyu, one of the old Zen masters, describes the tea ceremony in just 4 words. What are the principles involved in taking tea? Has anybody ever taken tea in the way of the Japanese?

Audience Member: At Maria Kannon. Yes.

Helen: Right. That is the shortened form. But I mean the actual tea ceremony offered by Japanese people. I had the opportunity to do it when I was giving a talk, and I never thought it could be a very intricate way of preparing, and you know what, in the West, we want all this instantaneous way of getting things, so we get the tea bag and stick it in the water, and that is tea.

But in the actual tea ceremony, it is a very, very long process, and that is very, very interesting. You have the tea master or the tea maker, and then you have the person receiving the tea. So in the tea ceremony, it is really one step at a time, and so you're thinking, what is the way of tea? Is it just the process of preparing the tea and then drinking it and then afterwards just laying the teacups down? So if you're looking again at the tea ceremony, the way of tea has different steps involved in order to drink the tea. Then it is defeating the whole purpose of the way. So when we talk of the way, we are always programmed, The Way. The Way of the pause, the Way of the pilgrim, the Way of—you know, just so many ways to crack a joke. Stephen Colbert—you know Stephen Colbert—if you ask him, "Ya way?" What is his response? "No way." I could not help but always including that one I'm talking about the tea ceremony. He is such a funny guy.

But anyway, Rikyu talks about the 4 principles or characteristics of the tea ceremony or the way of TV. The first one is harmony, and then we have respect, and then we have purity, and then tranquility. If you apply all those 4 principles in your life, you will see that as you live each principle, the more you are at one with the rest of the world.

The first one then is harmony. What happens in Japan when somebody goes to drink tea is that—of course, this is the old times. I don't know if they still do it now, but it was during the time of the samurais, and so they had a very small room and a very small door like that. So you have to pass through that small door, so whether you are an Emperor or you're just an ordinary worker, you passed through the same door, and then you go and sit, and when you are sitting, everybody is equal. Nobody is higher than the rest. So regardless of your status in life, you're able to drink tea together. So there is that harmony among everybody who drinks the tea.

So just like in the Maria Kannon Zen Center, of course, we have tea servers, and then we offer the tea to 2 persons at a time, and then we respond with a bow, and then the monitor would sound the clappers, and then we all drink the tea together. So it is a harmonious way really of relating with one another regardless of who you are. And if you have ever experienced that, you know when you go and probably dine outside or probably have guests in your house, do you look at each person and say, "Hey, this person drives a Mercedes. Oh this person just drives a small rickety car." You know, something like that. It's this idea again of who these people are, that discriminating mind that we often refer to is the one that separates us from everybody.

So if there is a harmonious relationship, what follows then is we respect each person who joins the tea ceremony regardless of status. So Rikyu says that if you are harmonious with one another, respect one another, then you develop that purity of heart. What is the purity of heart? The heart that is able to accept each person for whatever he or she is and not again judging that person or having our expectations as to who that person should be.

And then the fourth principle is then, if you have developed all the 3—harmony, respect, and purity—then comes tranquility, when you are at peace with yourself and at peace with everyone. So in the way of tea, what we are trying to explain here is that if you look at each of the different meditation forms, somehow some principles are involved. So just like in the practice of Zen, there are just 3 fundamental things that we are trying to remember when we are sitting, and this could also be applied to the way you sit here at the Dallas Meditation Center. And number 1 would be really having good posture, the posture of having a straight back, just really being fully grounded. And then secondly, to be able to breathe as naturally as you can, and thirdly, to be able to still the mind or silence the mind.

But it is almost impossible to silence the mind because the mind is very, very noisy. It is almost like a playground of 1 million thoughts. But if you are sitting in the right posture, breathing as naturally as you can, then all these things will follow, and then you'll have a mind that is more settled and conducive really to trying to remove all the psychological or other debris from the mind that is stopping you to come to that point of stillness.

Coming to the point of stillness, I just would like to share an experience I had coming back from New York to Dallas. I went through North Carolina. If you have any chance sometime in the future, it is a beautiful state, and there are so many—what do you call it?—meditation groups there. They have Zen groups, Vipassana. They also have Thich Nhat Hanh, so it is in this little town called Asheville right before you get to Tennessee. So one of the things that I wanted to do is really to go to Mount Mitchell. Has anyone ever gone to North Carolina?

So anyway, the beauty of going to Mount Mitchell is you can actually bring your car almost to the summit, that you cannot really bring the car to the summit because that is like 6,600 feet of elevation, so you still have to walk a quarter of a mile to get to the top of the mountain. I have an arthritic hip, and when we travel, I just had this attack on my left leg where was paralyzed and I couldn't walk, so I thought I would not be able to come back. And finally going on, we did our descent, that I was in this forest with lovely, lovely trees, a lot of moss, and all the things that I cannot describe. And I stopped, and my friend who is a hiker. She hikes the Appalachians and all these other places. She asked me, "Are you there? Are you there?" She was kind of scared that I was lost. And that is also one of the questions that we ask in the practice of Zen. Are you there? Are you fully present? I just wanted to say, "Please be quiet and just let me enjoy this moment." So of course I said, "Yeah. Don't worry. Just go ahead and let me stay here."

What happened then was I was in this part of the forest which was just moss and then the trees and the sliver of light probably, because it was getting dark, and what was really so awesome at the time what's to come to the point of stillness that I've never experienced. Of course we sit here, right? And sometimes we come to the point of stillness, but what was amazing was to be right there, just standing, and everything was just motionless. There was nothing. And that is an experience that we have all also—what do we call it? The point of stillness in Zen or in any meditation tradition whatsoever, when you come to that—even if there is a motion, like a thought, you have the thought and then you observe the thought. It looks like it is spinning, but as you look at the thought when it is spinning, it is motionless, so you can experience moments like that. I can't describe the feeling. It was just, you know, wow. The awesome feeling of just nothing. No wind, no words, no sound, just nothing. It lasted probably for a few seconds. I don't know, but that is what happens in the process while we are sitting to come to the realm of what they call the infinite and boundless realm, where there is no longer time. That is a timeless infinite moment in one's life.

Of course, for some individuals, you do not even have to be sitting. Sometimes it is a gift that is bestowed upon certain individuals when you can really experience that moment of just total bliss or the total silence. And when I talk about silence, it is not the silence when you cover your ears, right? So you will not hear anything. Actually it is the reverse. That same silence is when we open our ears, we open our hearts so we can hear the cries of the room. We can hear the woundedness of our fellow beings, and we can also hear the joys of people who are celebrating life.

I was really very impressed with that little boy. Is he already asleep? I wanted to stop him. But anyway, I used to have a niece. How old are you now?

Audience Member: 8.

Helen: 8? Good. When I started my practice, my niece was a year old, and then she kept growing and growing and growing, and then one of the Sundays or probably several Sundays—of course, Ruben's kids—my teacher—also were as old as my niece, and sometimes on the Sunday instead of going to the Catholic Church, we would say, "Would you guys like to experience sitting meditation?" And everyone would just raise their hands and say, "Sure. Sure. That is better than sitting in church." And I remember we brought them to the Zen Center when we were in East Dallas at that time, and it was really just awesome to see these little children sit for 5 minutes. Of course, after 5 minutes, they were like lying down for doing different things.

But what I can say is I think if a child is exposed to this kind of meditation, as he grows, he can go back to this concept. We think, oh, this is just in passing, and eventually he will lose it. That is not true. Because what happened with my niece is that of course she went to Stanford, and when she was there, she said "Hey, I actually go to sit once a week with the little group there." And then she graduated. After graduation, she went to work in Chicago, and so I asked her, "Hey, are you still sitting?" And she said, "You know, I don't have time to sit anymore because my practice now is really working with these little kids, with these elementary school kids."

She is such an inspiration to me because I think one of the best teachers that you can have in life is somebody close to you, and sometimes children teach you a lot, or probably your spouse or probably somebody at work could be your teacher. Or a good teacher would be your enemy or somebody who has hurt you, and you really learn a lot from these people. But going back to my niece, when she was in 7th grade, I don't know if it was the tsunami. I forgot what it was, but we were collecting money for the victims, and it was Christmas. I said, "You know, I am collecting some money for the victims in Thailand and all the afflicted areas." And then she said, "You know, I have my Christmas money. Let me give all my Christmas money to you." And I said, "Where is this coming from?"

And then another example is when we left Chicago to bring her to New York, of course she was only paid like $1,000 in Chicago because she was doing the civic corps, and they really don't have enough funding to help young graduate. And she was living on a meager $500 salary, and she said, "You know what? You can actually live on $500 if you simplify your life." And on the day that we are leaving, she said, "Will you bring me to the grocery store?" I said, "Why should we go to a grocery store?" And she said, "You know, I have $600 worth of food stamps." "You're going to do all the groceries now that you are leaving Chicago?" And she said, "No. I'm going to the food pantry to donate these goods to the people who are in need." Then I was telling her mother, and her mother was almost in tears, and now she will be working in the sketchiest part of Brooklyn working with foster children. And the reason why I am sharing all these things about her is that she is almost like my daughter, but I've learned so much from her, that in life, it is not just about sitting and concentrating on what we are doing, but actually the practice I'm sitting there, you carry the practice into the world and then give of yourselves.

So she gave me this bracelet, and it says here, "Service to a cause greater than ourselves." In closing then, what I would like to say today is I cannot help but be grateful to Bobbie and especially to ChiSing, and I cannot help also but remember ChiSing when he was starting in his practice, and I was there and the big Plano house where he started, and then he moved to an apartment, and somehow he came to the Zen Center. He was moving and moving and moving, and now our dear friend keeps on moving. He is striving to find out how he can heal himself, and it is all part and parcel of what life is.

Everything is impermanent. That is the first mark of the dharma. Everything is impermanent, so do not get attached to anything. They say just let go, because even your meditation can be an attachment, so when you sit, just sit. When you walk, just simply walk. And when you meet somebody outside and somebody says hello, just to say hello. The culture in New York is just so different from the culture here in Texas. I was a grocery store, and the salespeople were really so unfriendly. Some of them oh my God, it was like a shock to me, right? You know you go there, and you ask—just go there and talk to someone like that. I asked my cousins—I said, "How come people here are like this? They are so unfriendly?" She said, "Well, that is just the way it is here in New York." Of course for some department stores.

And then I realized again I am setting myself up because I am comparing the people in New York to the people in Texas. What happens when you compare? Then you get that frustration of this is better, that is not good. So I think the lesson there is really to be able to assimilate yourself in a culture and just be accepting of whatever there is. It does not make them a lesser culture then who we are here. Of course, I am not generalizing. It is just little, little stores. Probably in the bigger stores, they were more accommodating. I don't know. But that was my experience, and again, going back, what creates all this suffering in this world? What creates all the dissatisfaction in this world? When our expectations are not met.

So be accepting and just be grateful. It is always nice to come here because Bobbie and ChiSing always say, "Okay. Let us go around and just say what are you grateful for today." So I am really very grateful for this opportunity to just share these little nuggets of Zen experiences that I have had in the past, and as Bobbie has said, we are in the process of transition, and we might be moving out. I don't know when, but it is always such a blessing, such a gift to be able to sit with the groups here at the Dallas Meditation Center. And if you want a taste of Zen, you are most welcome to join us whenever we sit here. So the common practice that we have among all the groups really of meditation is that great breath, which is really the anchor in one's life.

Thank you.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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