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The First Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life
Listen to this talk:
The First Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life (20 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Aaron Conner
April 17, 2016 - Dallas, Texas

Dear Thay, dear sangha, thank you for having me. It is really a special thing to be able to talk about the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and one thing—as I was prepping today, I also got to do the exact same teaching earlier at my sangha, so it is the same thing—different though, right?

One of the things that I want to do is just read it first, and come back into this moment, and come back into your breath, and really do not listen with your intellect. Just open yourself up and just be here in the present moment as you listen to it, because really the teaching, if you listen to this, you will get a lot out of it. So would you mind doing a bell for me?

(Bell sounds)

"The First Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life. Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world."

After reading or reciting the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we always like to ask ourselves, for the past month, have we been able to practice this in our own lives? And I think that one of the things I hope you get out of these Five Mindfulness Trainings, and this one specifically, is Thay, he is like the best parent we could ever have. He takes the Buddha's teachings, and he delivers them in a way that is very helpful advice for our day-to-day lives. Sometimes we look at these, and we can get overwhelmed by reading. You know, "Oh, I can't do this, and I can't do that," but it is not a commandment, and as Bobbie said earlier, it is a guideline.

And if you look at it deeply, the reason he gives those is because we have all these seeds of suffering that are inside us, and depending on what we water, we also have seeds of happiness inside of us and seeds of mindfulness inside of us. We have all of these seeds in our store consciousness that Thay teaches us, and depending on what we water is what grows. So Thay teaches us in this First Mindfulness Training. He says, "Go within yourself. Go within yourself and look at your day-to-day life and what are the things that you are doing that contribute to killing animals, plants, minerals? What are the things in your life? Are you being discriminative? Are you having wrong thinking?"

These Five Mindfulness Trainings are a concrete way for us to practice the Eightfold Path. They also show us very clearly the Four Noble Truths. And if you read this one—and one thing I got very clearly is that the Five Mindfulness Trainings, as you go through them, they inter-are. As you read one, you can see all of the other Trainings in this one. So as we start to look at ourselves in the suffering of ourselves—we sit in meditation, and we do this beautiful walking meditation, and we start to cultivate our awareness.

In a way, we give ourselves space so we can see as we eat our food, as we take the time to mindfully eat our food, what are we taking into our body? And we can look at the food, and we can determine whether or not what we are eating is good for us. But we can also see that in the food as it was made, that maybe there were animals that were harmed as our food was being made, or maybe the way that the animals were raised or whatever it is we are doing as far as our eating, we can look and we can see clearly with our mindfulness the inter-being of ourselves inside of this food. We can see the rain. We can see the clouds, and we can see the earth and the food. We can see the suffering, and we can see the happiness, and we can see all things as we start this.

So the actual Training itself teaches us that as we do something to something else, we are doing it to ourselves as well, and so as we start to become aware of our own suffering—as we become aware of the seeds that we have watered in ourselves, whether it is fear or dogmatism—we begin to see that there is that same suffering in the other person. So we think of not killing, and so a lot of people want to be vegetarians in our practice because they are afraid that if you kill an animal and you eat it, that is killing something. So then also, as we do the veggies and the vegetables, there is also suffering. You can find suffering in actually the cultivation of the vegetables.

And so what it does is that it really allows us to become aware of everything that is occurring in the process of getting our food and sustaining us, but it also teaches us this idea of inter-being, that everything that we take in, everything that we do to the earth, everything that we do to another person, when we have anger in ourselves, we become that anger, and so right now, you guys are very aware of the political season that is going on right now, and there's a lot of anger, and there is a lot of dualism. There's a lot of passion towards your view and this view, and Thay teaches us to come back into ourselves.

This practice of mindfulness, these Five Mindfulness Trainings allow us to come back and create some space within ourselves and to see the things—our reaction to it. As I eat my food, what do I experience? If I am really understanding what I am eating and my food, do I notice aggression after I eat my food? Do I notice the suffering in other people or other animals? So this inter-being, it is not just killing animals to eat our food. It is the anger that we experience in our self. It is the seed. We can see the seeds in our self to kill another person. We can find the seeds in our self of violence, and we can see it in other people.

There is a TV show that had a guy who was in prison, and he was there for life, and he had murdered another man, and he had never accepted that he did it. He never really owned up to it. He never really saw the problem in what he had done, and it wasn't until he saw that his daughter would come and have visitation with him, and he couldn't ever really go out and do something with his daughter. It was always very controlled, and they could only talk. They could never hug, or he could never be around her, and he suffered very deeply because he couldn't be around his daughter. And the man that he had killed, he also had a daughter, and his daughter—once he started realizing the suffering that he was experiencing in himself with his daughter, he realized that that little girl could never have a dad again, that she would never be able to visit him. He at least had the ability to see his daughter on occasion, but for the rest of that girl's life—and that man would never get to experience that father-daughter relationship, and when he saw that in himself, in his own suffering in himself, he was able to see the suffering that he had caused by killing.

And so this practice is going inside our selves. When we look at what Thay says, you can see that he says, "Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking," and so as we start to practice within ourselves, we start to understand our own suffering. We become aware of our own suffering. We can see the causes of suffering in the world.

So when you start to practice this, as you start to practice this in yourself, as you start to sit, as you start to eat, what comes from you? What suffering do you notice in yourself and the things that you do and the way that you act towards other people? Do you see the anger in yourself? Do you see the fear in yourself? And you say, "We see it on television." Or, "We see it in these politicians, and there's all this fear and anger in the world." But can you find that we have the same seeds in ourselves? And it teaches us to have compassion, not only for ourselves, but it teaches us if we can see the suffering in ourselves, we can have compassion for these other people. So as we become more present, and as we become more mindful, as we start to go inside ourselves, these guidelines that Thay gave us— it is such great advice.

He said, "Look, Bobbie. If you follow these Five Mindfulness Trainings, you will suffer less. It doesn't mean that you will not suffer, but you will learn how, through the Four Noble Truths, to find the cessation of suffering. I know that I am suffering. I know that I start to understand why I am suffering. I start to see the anger and the fear and myself, and I can also see it in the other person, so I understand my own anger, my own fear. I understand that when I buy food that was cruelly treated or was killed, or if I contribute to that, I am also contributing to that suffering because I can find that same suffering in myself.

I do not go and look at it and condemn you for it. I do not condemn myself for making a mistake. In fact, I come back to myself with gentleness and compassion, and I start to see myself and say—and I think somebody earlier said they were grateful because in every breath, we are brand-new. In every breath, we get to start fresh. We get to start new. And that is this practice. Because I can come back now in this moment, and if I am present, I am able to drop everything from the past.

So as I start practicing the Mindfulness Trainings, I come back into the present moment. I can see that maybe I didn't do that so well, but now in this breath and at this moment, I'm going to have compassion for myself for what I did in the past, and I'm going to come back into this moment, and I'm going to become aware of what is going on inside myself. And as I build that compassion for myself, I can be there for you, and you can be there for me, and I can make that same space that I made for myself for you. And I can keep forgiving myself. So if I can forgive myself for all of these seeds that are inside of myself, and sometimes I water them, and I have a habit energy that arises, I can see that if I have that—

I wore a shirt very specifically for this today. It is "No mud, no lotus," and we have a dharma talk going on outside, with the rain and the mud, and I can see the flowers coming out of the rain. Because it is raining and it is muddy, I know there are going to be these flowers. And so as we are practicing these, learning what should we do in our lives, if you decide you're going to go ahead and eat that, you can just be very aware as you are doing it. Be very mindful of what you are eating. Be very mindful of if you decide you're going to go kill something—

If you can become aware, you will find what Thay is saying. He wants you to experience it. He wants you to actually practice this. This is a practice. It is not a belief. It is literally guidelines and a practice for ourselves in our daily life. We do not just believe it. We do not just go, "Oh yeah. Thay said it, so it's got to be true." No. He said, "This is a practice. Take it home with you and sit with it. Give yourself enough space in meditation." So part of this is not only did he give us the Five Mindfulness Trainings, but he gave us the practice to help us overcome our anger and our suffering. He will tell you, "Walk. Go for a walk in mindfulness. Take a walk through that path, and Mother Earth is below you, and you can take all the pain and the suffering and the anger."

And if you look at the First, there is a book called The Mindfulness Survival Kit, and Thich Nhat Hanh, it is his book. He will actually go through and talk about his thought process on the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and then he will give you some concrete practices for that specific training, and the one that he mentions here is actually a walking meditation. It is a really good one when you are angry, when you are fearful, when you don't know what is going on. You can come back into yourself.

The first thing is you just get away from it. If you are angry at someone and you feel that seed arising and yourself, just go for a walk. You can go and take a mindful step, and you take one, two, three steps, and a breath. Three steps and an out breath. Three steps and an in breath. Whatever your breathing is, you match it, and you count your steps, and it will bring you back to the present moment. And that is what this practice is, right? In every moment, I give compassion to myself. I accept this moment for exactly what it is, even if it is, I am in anger, even if it is, I am in fear. I am compassionate to myself because I am a human being, and I have seeds within my store consciousness, just like every other human being.

And so when I get angry, I cultivate that awareness of my fear and anger. I start to understand why it came about, and I take a walk, and I breathe, and I hold it like a child, and I hold it, and I caress it, and I keep it just like a child, and I let it go. And I let Mother Earth absorb it. Mother Earth will take the rain. She will take all kinds of stuff. We can put seeds in it, good seeds, but she will also take the waste, and she will absorb the waste for us. And so as we take that step in mindfulness, we can say to ourselves, "Mother Earth, I give you my pain. Mother Earth, I give you my pain. I am free." You can make up your own mantra, especially if you are in anger or you are in fear and you know you are. And everybody has it, so it's okay. Don't even water the anger any more or the fear any more by being angry at yourself for doing it. Just recognize it and love yourself and know that it is okay and build that compassion, and as you do that—

Gandhi says, "Be the change that you want to see in the world." And that is this practice. We have to cultivate it in ourselves, and as we do, we cultivate it in everyone else around us. And even if we want to go out in a peaceful protest, we can go out in a peaceful protest. And because we have been able to deal with our anger—you know, as a sangha, you could go and protest somebody who is doing something with animals in a terrible way, or you can go and protest something, but first when you cultivate the compassion and loving-kindness and equanimity in ourselves, and we understand interbeing, and then we do it in right mindfulness. We go out in right mindfulness and love and peace and in joy.

So, thank you very much for your time.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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