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Gratitude and the Qualities of the Awakened Heart
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Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
November 23, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

You know, we have ten spiritual practices that I recommend. You can download them online, or there is a copy outside the door. So if you don't have those ten practices, look at them. You don't have to do all ten all the time, but it is really nice to be able to do some of them at least.

So one of them is the gratitude practice. One of the things I've noticed is a lot of people are dealing with issues, especially during this autumn to winter time, of a little bit of sadness or a little bit of depression or just a little bit of low energy. You know, maybe you are not sad, but you just kind of have low energy. So a lot of people seem to be going through that, and one really helpful practice with low energy is the practice of gratitude. It will uplift your energy. Do any of you feel a little more uplifted?

Audience: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

ChiSing: Yeah. See? It really works, so try to do that at least once a week with a friend or somebody, your partner, or maybe just by yourself. It is a really good practice, gratitude. And gratitude, what it does is it allows us to see the blessings that are already available.

That is what mindfulness is, too, right? Mindfulness means awareness. To be aware of what? Well of course, to be aware of whatever is happening, whatever is reality, but also to be aware of the blessings that we so many times forget or ignore or take for granted. So mindfulness is very connected to gratitude, and mindfulness helps us to be aware of the blessings in our lives.

And so, we want to be aware of the blessings of lovingkindness from the universe, from the infinite light of the source of all life, from the infinite love and light that manifests in our own lives and through our brothers and sisters, our spiritual families, from the earth and from the sun and the sky and the ocean and the rain and the wind and the animals, just everything. We can become mindful of the blessings and love that are expressed.

So, true love comes from this part of gratitude and mindfulness blessings. Now when love—well, love is also sometimes called metta, lovingkindness. It also means friendship. So it is a very friendly feeling in the heart, a friendly attitude and intention of the heart, wanting just everyone to be blessed.

And so, love in its pure form is just this friendly blessing, and when that lovingkindness or metta—also called maitri—when this love meets suffering, we call it compassion or karuna, the pure heart of lovingkindness, kindly blessing metta. When it encounters the suffering in ourselves or others, that love is the same love. It is not a different kind of love. It is the same love, but it expresses when it meets suffering. It expresses as compassion, so that lovingkindness then is expressed as compassion because it feels for the suffering of another and wants to be helpful, to help relieve the suffering.

But that same lovingkindness, when it meets not suffering but blessings and joys of others, we then call it sympathetic joy or appreciative joy or non-jealous joy, called mudita. So that same lovingkindness that is called compassion when it meets suffering, when it needs someone's blessing and joy—someone just received a wonderful gift or something—then the response of this lovingkindness is to share the joy, to share in that joy.

It is called sympathetic joy or appreciative joy. In other words, it is the kind of joy when you are happy, I am happy. When you just won the lottery, I am happy, not jealous. I am happy for you. But of course, many times in our humanness, when someone else is blessed, sometimes we have this feeling of jealousy rather than joy for and with them. So let us just notice that.

So these are the three great expressions of love, but there is a fourth quality that must be present to help bring balance to love, and that is called equanimity. It is a quality of peace, and it is called upekkha in Pali or upeksha in Sanskrit. This equanimity or peace is the quality of non-attachment and the quality of letting be, letting some things be. It is the quality of not being perturbed or disturbed by emotions, whether you are being praised or blamed. You're just even-keeled, equanimous, at peace.

So, this is a very important quality to help these qualities stay in a peaceful and mindful quality, because without equanimity and peace as a quality, many times your love can turn into a kind of possessiveness, possessive love, rather than true love, which allows the other person some space. Right? Compassion without this fearfulness can lead to you trying so hard to help someone and then getting drowned in their suffering, too. Like you just get pulled into their drama, so now you need someone to help you, too, right?

So that would not be helpful compassion, because you are pulled into the drama, too. So you need a strong anchor of peace while you're being compassionate, and also joy to really be joyful with another without getting too carried away by the frenzy or the fun or whatever is going on, you know? So, a peaceful, loving, mindful joy rather than a crazy, manic type of joy.

So it is very important that these are balanced, but if you only cultivate equanimity and peace, letting go of everything, letting be, without also cultivating the heart of love, compassion, and joy, what happens to your practice? You might be very peaceful. You might get a lot of wisdom and stillness, but you might have a slight quality of coldness or indifference. So this is something that we need to be careful not to allow the cultivation of equanimity to then turn into indifference, apathy, and not caring.

So, it is all about balance. You know, these four qualities of love, they have what is called the far enemies. Such as, the far enemy of lovingkindness would be, I guess, ill will towards someone, not wishing them well. And the far enemy of compassion, I guess, would be instead of having compassion, you have lots of cruelty maybe. And the far enemy of sympathetic or appreciative joy would be jealousy, like I mentioned earlier. And the far enemy of equanimity or peace would be when, again, you're pulled by craving or aversion, you're pulled off one way or the other, rather than being even keeled in the balance.

But the thing is, they also have what is called near enemies. In other words, a near enemy, instead of the opposite of that quality, it is kind of close to it, but it is a poor substitute. It is not quite the real thing. It is close. So like I mentioned before, love, lovingkindness can have a near enemy—it could come across as love, but it is really kind of a possessive kind of love or obsessive-compulsive or codependent or lust. It looks almost like love, but it is not really. So that would be a near enemy of lovingkindness.

With compassion, I guess the near enemy could be instead of true, open-hearted compassion, you're kind of thinking you are superior, they are inferior, and you're kind of condescending, and so that is not compassion, but pity. Right? You know? So we have to be careful that we are not slipping into that near enemy. And then, sympathetic joy. Of course, the near enemy looks like joy, but it is not this nice peaceful, mindful loving joy. Like I said before, it is manic or frenzied. It is also maybe mindless and careless, too. In fact, a lot of people, when they get too carried away with fun, they actually might hurt someone accidentally, you know, if they get all fun drinking and driving and something negative happens.

So we just have to be mindful of that. And then the near enemy, like I mentioned before, of equanimity and peace would be the indifferent coldness. See, we want to be non-attached, but we don't want to be detached. So we want to practice non-attachment but not detachment. Non-attachment is you can still have emotions, and you can still have love, but you know, you are not so caught up in the drama of it. But detachment is like you are actually pulling away, you see? The practice of gratitude.

Now there is also the practice of meditation called metta meditation, and in this practice, I like to start with gratitude of course. Traditionally, we start with first thinking of someone easy to love and, like a benefactor or a teacher or just someone where there is nothing but positive feelings for them. Not mixed bag, like romantic relationships, where you love and hate them sometimes. No. Someone that just you have no feelings of anything negative, just love. So traditionally, when we meditate on love, we generate that feeling of love or someone easy to love like that. You do it for few minutes or longer or shorter. It is up to you. Sometimes you can just spend days on that, if you wish.

But anyway, then when you feel ready, you go to the second part of the meditation. When you think of someone that may be neutral, so it could be someone that you see every week at the grocery store. You always say hi, and they're very helpful. Now think of that person even though you don't know them, and just generate this thought of wow, this person is a human being just like I am. They have sufferings. They have hopes. They have a life, and they are struggling to make ends meet, too, just like me, and so I'm going to just send them loving kindness. I'm going to visualize just supporting them and smiling at them or wishing them well. And you can do this for a few minutes.

And then the third step would be then to think of someone little difficult perhaps—not too difficult, okay? Don't think of terrorist just yet, but maybe just a politician. No. I'm just kidding. So think of someone a little difficult and then start to hold them in the consciousness of lovingkindness and compassion and just start generating the same feeling, and you will start realizing that you can generate that same feeling towards someone difficult to love just as much as you can for someone it is easy to love.

Then of course, eventually, you want to be able to generate this lovingkindness toward all beings everywhere eventually. Practice helps this. You know, before we do this, I would like to practice the practice of gratitude before we even practice sending love. Oh. For those who know better, I forgot actually there is a step four, sending love to someone it is easy to love. So what is that?

Audience: To yourself.

ChiSing: To our self. Right. I did not forget. I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. No, but really, that is a good point. Most of us forget about how important sending that lovingkindness to yourself is. We're so busy caretaking everybody else, we exhaust ourselves.

We run ourselves ragged, and then we have nothing left to give, and even though we give, what happens when you don't give yourself love, when you start giving too much to others without that love to yourself, too? What happens? Even what you give gets a little bit spoiled and poisoned by a little something, doesn't it? It's like you give with a little grudge, right? How many of us grew up in an environment where that happened at least once?

Audience: Oh. (Laughter)

ChiSing: Like family? School? Church? Whatever? Yeah. So, it is like love with strings attached, right? Right. So we have to be careful. The key to solving that is learning how to give enough love to yourself as well. So we need to learn how to take care of ourselves, appreciate ourselves, and love ourselves as well. So this is very important, to do this first and foremost and along with loving others.

Now, that is the traditional way of doing that meditation on love. But I like to also add a step even prior to that, which is before you even try to give love to yourself—because sometimes it is hard, because if you do not appreciate yourself and, you know, it is hard to generate that love for yourself. So there is a step before that I like to do, and that is to practice gratitude.

In other words, to practice acknowledging that I am already loved, you know? Wow. I am already loved. The sun is already shining for me. The earth is producing life all around the planet so that I can be sustained. Parents gave me birth. My teachers, they educated me. The air I am breathing to stay alive. And if you are from a Jewish, Christian, or Muslim background, you know that before you even loved yourself, God loves you. So it makes it easier for you to love yourself when you realize you're already loved. You see?

So recognize, acknowledge, be mindful and in gratitude for that love that is already blessing you, and as you fill yourself with that knowing of that divine love from the source of the universe, it makes it so much easier then to give yourself some love and then to give others that love. We are all family. We are all a family of love, and we all come to this earth life with differing degrees of spiritual development.

None of us is a pure blank slate when we arrive on the planet. Just look at the babies. They are all different personality types, and some of them seem a lot more mature than others all right off the bat, and some people even have amazing gifts at age one, two, or three. They can play the piano like Mozart or whatever right away. Where did all that come from? You see? We don't come here starting at zero. We came with the spiritual history.

Whether you believe it was past lives on earth or a past life in heaven, we all have a developed soul already by the time we arrived on earth in this lifetime. So when we arrived here, it is not competition because some of us are going to be elder brothers and sisters. Some of us are going to be younger brothers and sisters, and some of us are going to be peer brothers and sisters. That is just the way it is. And that doesn't mean that the elder brothers and sisters are better or superior to the younger brothers and sisters. Not at all.

We came here so that we can learn how to help each other and respect each other and love each other at our different levels. If we were all the same, we would not have as many opportunities to know how to love each other. So there is a reason why we are born into our different countries, different languages, different religions, different all kinds of things and situations to give us the variety that the spirit intended for us to have optimal opportunities for messy learning and growing and transforming and learning how to love. You see?

So, I really believe that we are here for three simple reasons. It all boils down to these three. Find who your spiritual elders are and love and respect them, honor them, support them, because it is not easy, and learn from them. Learn from them. You know, I felt very sad when I found out that Thich Nhat Hanh, Thay, our teacher, he is very ill. You know, this might be his last year of life. I don't know. He is getting older. He is 88 now. And I felt sad that even though I have learned a lot from him and I spent some time over at Plum Village and other monasteries with him and the monks and nuns, I still feel like I could've learned more. I could've learned more. But I am just so grateful that I did learn whatever I did learn.

But yes, we can always learn more, can't we? So many times, we waste our time in distraction instead of learning, right? And I do that, too, okay? Because I am not perfect either, and I'm not saying that I am very mature. I am just like you. I am a human being, and there are times when I get low energy, especially with my health right now. I get low energy. I don't want to do anything except watch TV, you know? Movie after movie.

But it is not always good for me, depending on what I am watching, too. I'm trying better now to not do too much distraction, or remember that, well, I can choose to be distracted, or I can choose something that's easy and also helpful. So there are lots of things that I can do that are easy on me and also helpful. I don't have to just revert to doing games or watching TV or whatever. I can take a walk outside. I need to do more walking, so I can take a walk outside, or I could call a friend and say hi and see how they are doing. So there are all kinds of things that we can choose to do.

But anyway, respect and learn from your elders. Find out who your younger brothers and sisters are in the world, and there are plenty of them—plenty of them—those who could really use our help in helping their suffering or their delusion or their confusion. And you don't have to save everybody. You don't have to convert everybody either. Just be helpful, one step of helpfulness. Just meet them where they're at and help them one little step further. You don't have to make a big leap, just one step.

For example, if someone does not practice any Buddhist meditation or spirituality or whatever but they are open to at least some spiritual practice, you don't have to tell them about Buddhism or meditation. Just encourage them in doing something spiritual. It doesn't have to be meditation. It doesn't have to be Buddhist. But just something, right? Or if someone is not even there yet and they are still in a lot of pain and suffering and violence, maybe doing a spiritual practice is still too much of a leap for them, at least help them to get out of the suffering and the delusion, right?

So, it is step-by-step-by-step, okay? And then the third, find your spiritual peers. Not necessarily complete equals because no one is exactly equal to anyone, but just find your general spiritual peers who are kind of on a similar wavelength to you, and find them, connect with them, and make friendships with them, relationships with them, communities with them, projects with them, projects where you can learn to love each other and help the world see world peace. Don't be a lone ranger spiritually. Learn how to cooperate and be a team member. That is something I always have to work on, too.

So that is really it. Those three are our assignments in this earth life. You do not have to find the perfect culture. You don't have to find the perfect job. You don't have to find the perfect family. You don't have to find the perfect school. You don't have to find the perfect religion. You don't have to find the perfect anything. Just whatever situation you are in, find the opportunity to learn, to serve, and to love.

Audience: That's right.

ChiSing: Amen.

Audience: Amen. All right.

ChiSing: OK! Amitabha.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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