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Five Teachings for Happiness: The Mindfulness Trainings
Listen to this talk:
Five Teachings for Happiness: The Mindfulness Trainings (33 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Terry Cortes-Vega
September 28, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

I said earlier how happy I was to be here. I am even happier that you are here—and not just because it is more fun to talk to somebody besides just Bobbie and Mark to offer a teaching, but because you come with some sort of big heart. You have come because you—well, I am guessing you have—because you want maybe to learn more about the teachings of the Buddha. And maybe you have come because you want to be embraced by the sangha, by the peace and ease and calm and joy of the sangha.

I teach meditation in the jails near Austin, and some of those fellows come to my class because they want to get out of their cells, and maybe that is another reason you came. You want to get out of your cell and be in the presence of gratitude and some happiness, because that is what I heard everybody say earlier when you were greeting the sangha. You expressed your gratitude and your happiness, so I am guessing one of the reasons I like to come here is to pick up some of that energy.

So thank you. Thank you for taking two hours on your Sunday afternoon to restore yourself, to hang out with people—like-minded people. It is my understanding that every Sunday night for the past few weeks, folks have been looking into the basic teachings of the Buddha, like I think maybe someone offered a teaching on the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path, and maybe mindfulness meditation.

Well, Bobbie asked me to give a talk tonight on one of the Buddha's basic teachings, which has several different names, but in my tradition—the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh—the Buddha is offering five ways to be happy. The Five Mindfulness Trainings, we call them. Actually, all of the Buddha's teachings—every teaching the Buddha ever gave—was about how to be happy, how to transform your unhappiness into happiness. Every teaching was about that. And so tonight, we will look at these five ways to be happy.

So, our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh—that fellow back there who is laughing—by the way, Thay is the Vietnamese word for Thich Nhat Hanh, our teacher. It is the Vietnamese word for teacher. He is going to be 88 on October 11. Happy birthday to Thay. So he calls these Trainings—he calls these five happiness teachings the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Other teachers call them precepts—the five precepts or the five moralities or the five disciplines, but I think our precious teacher doesn't call them discipline because he knows that we Westerners get a little fidgety when we hear words like discipline, which brings to our minds obedience or rigidity, rules, and the hair kind of stands up on our neck.

And so Thay calls them to Five Mindfulness Trainings—and Bobbie has made it a copy of these Five Mindfulness Trainings for you. So we are not going to read them tonight. Our teacher has extended the teachings of the Buddha, and you can see that each Training comes with a lot of detail. So we are not going to read them tonight. But Bobbie made copies so you can take them home with you and reflect on them in your own time. I suggest maybe reflecting on one a night so they don't get jumbled. And you can decide, are these Trainings something I would like to use as a guideline for my life? You can decide for yourself. So we won't read them tonight, but I would like to give a little overview of these Five Trainings.

So, I said earlier that some teachers call these the five disciplines. In the Buddhist context, discipline doesn't mean regulation or obedience or rigidity. In the Buddhist context, discipline means something like living in grace, living a fluid, elegant life. It means living with compassion and love and kindness, joy and equanimity and gratitude. Discipline means slowing down enough so that we can be present enough to take care of ourselves and other people. The word discipline comes from the word disciple, which means learner or open to learning. So disciplined in the Buddhist context arises out of an openness to whatever comes to us. Discipline arises out of curiosity and courage and understanding.

So these Five Mindfulness Training spell out how this kind of discipline works in our lives. It tells us these Five Trainings tell us how to relate to ourselves first and then how to relate to our sweethearts, to our children, our parents, our family—how to relate to our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors. These Five Trainings also teach us how to relate to our enemies, to people who are in our lives who are very difficult for us—have been or are now. And the Trainings also teach us how to relate to our pets and to other creatures, how to relate to our gardens and to trees and weeds, how to relate to oceans and lakes and rivers and the air and mountains.

So let's take a look at them. Each of these Five Trainings offer us things to avoid and things to cultivate. So the First Training is Reverence for Life, and we are asked to avoid aggressiveness, to avoid violence, fanaticism, dogmatism, and we are asked to avoid killing—killing any living being. And then what we are asked to cultivate is learning ways to protect and respect and even revere all life, all the physical life of all people, animals, plants, and minerals. And we are asked to cultivate openness and nondiscrimination. So that is the First Training.

And with this Training, it is easy to feel either a little bit like we're not measuring up—like, I can't not eat a cow. I can't measure up. Or we get this kind of self-righteous feeling, like ew, she eats bacon. You know? Or like, oh, he is taking lives. So if that is what we are getting from these Trainings, then what we are cultivating really is pride and self-righteousness, judgmental mind. And what this Training is really designed to do is to help us develop our kindness and to not let our aggression get out of hand. This Training reminds us to take care of our lives, the lives of all beings, the lives of society, the life of our Mother Earth.

The Buddha said, "If you want to be happy, you need to have reverence for all life, all people—not just your sweethearts." I have a friend who says a person who is hard for her to have reverence for life for is the person in the cable company, and another friend says, "You know, mine is AT&T." And the Buddha said, "You must have—if you want to be happy, you must have reverence for all animals, and not just your puppy dogs and your kitty cats, but all animals—cockroaches." I know. The Buddha didn't live in Texas, so I don't know if he really meant cockroaches. Cockroaches. In our house, it is mice. Reverence to protect the lives of all animals, including cockroaches and mice and mosquitoes.

I heard the Dalai Lama—well I didn't hear. I heard about the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh having a conversation about mosquitoes. And they both said that what they do is they let the mosquito bite them—okay, have your breakfast—but if you come back a second time, not so much. Okay. But the Buddha said, if you want to be happy, you have got to protect the lives of all animals, of all plants, and not just the beautiful palm trees and pine trees and bougainvillea and daisies, but all plants. Poison ivy. Protect poison ivy. And, if you want to be happy, the Buddha said you need to protect all minerals. That means our water, our mountains, our air. You can see that the Buddha gave maybe the first teaching on ecology. Okay. That is the first Mindfulness Training, Reverence for Life. If you want to be happy, the Buddha said you must have reverence for all life.

And the Second Training is focusing on generosity. And it says to avoid stealing, to avoid taking more than our share of the resources, to avoid exploitation and oppression, to avoid taking what is not freely given, to avoid running after wealth and fame and sensual pleasure, and to cultivate generosity in your thinking, speaking, and acting, And to share your time and your attention—your true presence and your material resources with others.

So, sometimes we take things that are not ours, rather than have to feel the craving, rather than staying present with the grasping. I saw that happened to me earlier this week. So, I made this chocolate cake, and I cut it into pieces for people, and my grandbaby, Precious Perfect, and Gustavo, we all had our piece of cake, and then we put it up, and then they all went to bed, and I thought, hmm. I would like another piece of cake. Oh, but there are only two pieces of cake for each one of us. Oh well, Gustavo doesn't like cake that much. You see? So rather than stick with that craving, grasping for more than my share of the cake, I just took it. Then I didn't have to feel that craving anymore. So that is a little example.

Nations are the same, of course. So the Second Training helps us to loosen up the panic we feel around giving away something, a particular something that is important to us—the panic we feel when we need to let go. This Training reminds us that our happiness depends on our mental attitude, rather than external conditions. Thay says, "I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy."

So, the Third Training is about True Love. And we are asked to avoid sexual misconduct, sexual activity motivated by craving, and sexual activity without love and a long-term commitment. When Thay first started expanding these Trainings many years ago, he added this. At first, the Training just said, "without love," and then Thay added, "and a long-term commitment." And now he has added a third revision, "without love and a long-term commitment made known to our family and friends." Because I think people were saying, "Is 2 hours alone a long-term commitment?"

So, he is trying to really get us the teaching. So then we are asked to cultivate ways to protect the safety and integrity of children and adults and of couples and of our society, and then we are asked to cultivate lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity—the Four Immeasurables, which is another of the Buddha's basic teachings you may get soon.

So, sex is seen as an expression—maybe even the chief expression of craving. We know that craving brings about unhappiness, so it is logical that in Buddhism we should see the need to want to bring it under control. Also, we know that recklessness and irresponsibility in sexual matters can cause harm to children and to adults. And we know that we can trifle with peoples' emotions in unplanned ways. We can bring unwanted children into the world. So this Training is to help us cultivate True Love. This quote comes from a newspaper advice column. I liked it. It said, "'I am in love' means I want me to be happy.' I love' means I want to make you happy.'" True Love is the third of the Five Trainings.

Many people find the Fourth Training to be the most difficult to work with, and that is Loving Speech and Deep Listening. So the Buddha said, "If you really want to be happy, you need to avoid harsh speech, whether oral or written. Avoid untrue speech. Avoid lying in your speech and in your e-mails. Avoid gossip. Avoid words that can cause division or discord. And avoid speaking altogether when you are angry." Our teacher says, "When you are angry, say nothing." And we know from our own experience that this is very good advice, because we say things we wish later we had not said.

And then we are asked to cultivate loving speech and deep listening, compassionate listening. So this whole Buddhist path is a quest for truth, and this Training focuses on practicing truth in what we say and what we write—even truth in its more subtle forms, like exaggeration or avoidance or omissions, evasions—saying one thing to one person and a different things to another person. We know that speech can be constructive or destructive, so we are encouraged to use words—to speak to ourselves with words that bring hope and confidence and joy, and to speak to others with words that bring hope and confidence and joy.

We also trained ourselves to listen to ourselves—really be present to ourselves and to others. And we are generous with praise and support for ourselves. Recognize when you do something good. Recognize it when you do something beneficial. I did good. And when other people do, too. You know, showing appreciation is a way to avoid difficulties. With my precious husband, it is very easy to show appreciation. He is so wonderful. But, both of us make it a conscious effort to say something appreciative to each other every day. Sometimes, I have to kind of think. He's wonderful, but sometimes what I can think of to say to him is, "I am just so happy I am married to you." Or you know, "This sounds really cheesy, but you wash the dishes so beautifully." And I'm not saying it to manipulate him so he washes the dishes more because I appreciate him—showing appreciation.

So, I have two quotes here from two Sufi masters—not Buddhist teachers, but two Sufi teachers. One is Hafiz and the other Rumi. So Hafiz says, "What we speak becomes the house we live in." And Rumi: "Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder."

So, the Fifth Training is called Nourishment and Healing. And in it—you wouldn't think we would actually need this Training, because the Training teaches us to avoid poison. Duh. But, the Buddha felt that it was necessary to offer this Training, and our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh thought it was necessary to spell out examples of poison that we consume. Avoid eating and drinking poisons—drugs, alcohol, and certain foods. Also avoid consuming with your eyes, consuming poison with your eyes. Avoid violent, aggressive movies, television shows, video games, books. And the Buddha said, "Avoid consuming poison with your ears. Don't listen to music that makes you feel angry or frustrated or upset. Don't listen to radio programs like that. Don't listen to conversations that aren't nourishing and healing. Stop consuming poison. Don't lose yourself in consumption." Lose yourself in compassion, but not in consumption.

Cultivate good physical and mental health for yourself, for your family, for your society, and for the earth. Cultivate mindful eating and drinking, and cultivate a kind heart. Cultivate tenderness. So this Training, like the other four, they are all aids to mindfulness. This Training is about craving, is about hiding and distracting ourselves. This Training is about needing to stay busy. It is designed to help us take care of our own body and mind and the collective body and mind. It is another Training in ecology.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training calls on us to transcend the normal way of living so that we touch each moment right where we find ourselves. I was in a retreat a couple of times with Thich Nhat Hanh, and in our question and answer period, one guy said, "Does this Training mean that I can't drink any wine? One little glass of wine with my pasta? Can I not have a beer with my pizza?"

And Thay said, "Of course you can. Of course you can have a glass of wine with your pasta. You can have a beer with your pizza. But, if you're going to drink alcohol, do it mindfully. Know what the alcohol is doing to your body, to your liver and the other parts of your body, and also know that you may not be a person who is easily addicted, but the people around you who are watching you drink might be, so know that you may be causing harm to the people around you. And as you drink your glass of wine, know that all the water that has to go into watering the grapes and all the land that has to go into raising the grapes for your little glass of wine, just be mindful." Wise teacher.

So I would like to review these five precepts, these Five Mindfulness Trainings. The first protects your beautiful life and the lives of all beings. The second reminds you how happy you are when you share your time, your smiles, and your stuff. The third helps you rejoice in the divinity of your body and the divinity of the body of others. The fourth reminds you to cultivate loving speech and compassionate listening. And the fifth reminds you that you have enough and you are enough and there is enough for everyone.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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