Thank you. I'd like to begin my talk tonight by reading the second mindfulness training, which is called "True Happiness." For anybody that's not familiar with the mindfulness trainings, this is Thich Nhat Hanh's contribution to helping us understand and have practices that will enable us to look deeply and practice deeply the Buddha's precept, the second precept, which is, "Avoid stealing." This is how Thay gives us a little more to work with.
"Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming."
He goes on in his explanation of this mindfulness training to say that the aim of this particular training is to end craving, and that's one of the forms of attachment that I want to talk about tonight. It's not difficult to see craving and clinging and greed. Those are all other names of the attachments that we're talking about. And it's pretty easy to see these things all around us these days. It's easy also to see the destruction that follows in the wake of those afflicted emotions. Clinging, craving, and greed have led to increasing inequality in so many ways in our particular culture. And you can see it around the world, pretty much. So these afflicted emotions have also played into the destruction of our planet and all of the problems we're facing in the environment. So it's pretty easy to see the destruction that follows in the wake of those afflicted emotions.
The thing that's more difficult, often, is to see those qualities in ourselves and recognize their connection to the things that challenge us. So I've been thinking about this, looking into my own afflicted emotions, as kind of a path of self-discovery. And what I've discovered is that I'm not sure that I have the courage to look that deeply into my personal attachments. But there is another element in me—I'm thinking it's one of those seeds in my store consciousness that I've watered—that makes me want to do this, to transform those afflicted emotions, because there is a deeper, probably somewhat wiser part of me that knows I will feel better, that my life will be better, that my interactions with people will be better, if I can do this work. So I've decided to give it a try. And I want to share with you what I've discovered so far. I'm trusting that sharing with you, kind of, my personal experience will be of benefit to you. I'm trusting that perhaps you'll see in my experience some things that mirror what you've been experiencing as well.
My husband George and I have lived in our house in northeast Dallas for thirty-one years. It's a nice little house in a quiet neighborhood, big trees, friendly neighbors that don't interfere too much (they're not nosy, as far as I know they don't gossip)… Anyway, it's a pleasant neighborhood and we've enjoyed living there. Our daughter, Jill, grew up in the house, went to school nearby, so this house and this neighborhood and the backyard and all the trees hold a lot of fond memories for us, a lot of shared experiences are in the energy of that house. We are the third owners of the house, and I actually met the original owners shortly after we bought the house, and of course we met the people we bought the house from. So we know a little bit about the history of the people that lived in the house. So some of their energy and their, some of their memories are stored there. I think of it kind of like the store consciousness of the house, and the place. So there are memories and there are energy patterns there. And of course having our energy in that house for thirty-one years has probably changed it quite a bit. But the house or the place where we've been living was also affected by the people that built the house, the materials that they used (thank goodness there was no asbestos in our house!)… It may have had lead paint at one time, but it's been painted over so many times, you know, I don't know about that… So the place itself has all of those energies as well. And then of course the land that the house is on has an energy. And I have no idea who might have roamed on that land or what animals might have called it home… And of course the story could go back and back and back. But I think you get the picture.
So there are a lot of—it feels almost sometimes to me like tentacles that hold me to that place. It feels so comfortable. It's home, and I'm very attached to it. So this is one of the things that caused me to begin to think about this project of looking into my own deep attachments and seeing if there's something there to transform, which I'm pretty sure there is. Recently, George and I have been talking about a plan for emptying the attic, which is filled with discarded luggage and old Christmas decorations, toys and memorabilia from when Jill was a child, boxes that could be useful someday, outdated electronics, old books, old sheet music, games, file drawers that are full of old bank records and stuff, who knows what else. Well, we talked about doing this for probably at least two years, and every time the weather cools off in the fall and the spring is when it comes up again, it's like, that's the only time you want to get up in the attic. But now we're both in our seventies and I was like, oh my gosh, the thought of getting up there! because you can't really stand up straight in the attic… So that's probably why we've talked about it for a couple of years but never have done it. I think we might actually do it this year because we've found that the gentleman that helps us cut the grass has three boys that are very young and healthy and strong and they've said they will help us do this. So we might actually do it, and now we have to plan how to do it, because there's a lot of stuff up there! So probably we're going to have to put everything in the garage and not be able to park the cars in there for a while, and then, oh my gosh, decide what to do next. Some of the things that I know are up there will have to be discarded, and this kind of bugs me a bit because I know I'm going to contribute to a landfill. Some of the things up there can probably be recycled, and hopefully some things we can give away and that they can still be useful to someone. And I fully expect that we'll come across a few things that we might have trouble letting go of because of the memories that are attached to it, the tentacles that I talked about earlier. I'm actually beginning—and as I was writing this up, trying to remember what I wanted to say tonight, I realized that I was actually beginning to look forward to this project as a way to understand my own tendency toward clinging. I don't think I tend too much toward craving, or greed, but I expect I might find out during this project. So the reason I'm looking forward to this project is that I feel that I really am ready to transform those afflicted emotions within myself. I can only say that I'm prepared to do that now because of this practice and the teachings of the Buddha. I can see very clearly how attachments, and particularly attachments when they express as clinging and craving and greed, I can see how those things cause so much suffering for each of us and for our world.
And so I want to do my bit. I want to do my part. I'm feeling that if I can release and transform those afflictions within myself, perhaps I'll be better informed and more understanding, more compassionate, and able to assist others who are ready to do that. And thankfully, there are antidotes for all of these attachments. I do want to—I'm reminded, I was thinking during the meditation—I was reminded of a story that I heard once (I have no idea if it's true, but…). It had to do with a monkey and a banana that was in a jar (probably some of you have heard this story). I suppose it was a researcher trying to see if monkeys could figure out this kind of puzzle, and so he put a banana in a jar that had a very small opening, big enough to get one's hand in, and they'd give the jar to the monkey, who obviously wanted the banana that was in the jar. So when the monkey put his hand in the jar and grabbed the banana, he could not pull his fist with the banana out of the small opening. And this is like our clinging. When we're clinging to some notion, some idea, something that we really want, we can get so focused on that object that we fail to see there might be another option. We have an expectation about how to achieve that goal, and so we get so attached to the expectation, we cling to it, and then when things don't work out, we don't have another option. We're not able to see that there are other options. So there was finally a monkey that realized that if he took his hand out of the jar and turned the jar upside down, the banana would fall out. So at least there was one monkey, maybe more than one, who could see there were other options! So when we are stuck in a position of clinging to particular expectations, it's helpful to remember that you can just take your hand out of the jar and turn it upside down and see what other options fall out.
So one of the antidotes for attachments is detachment, detaching from those expectations. There are many other antidotes as well: generosity, of course. If there is greed and craving, then generosity is an antidote. And our teacher, Thay, Thich Nhat Hanh, suggests this as an antidote. He says, learning to share material goods, time, and energy with those who are in need is an antidote. I'd like to just kind of open it up a little bit and see if you can think of other ways to express generosity. Anybody? It's not a rhetorical question… Just shout it out… How do you express generosity?
Man: "Well, as a member of the [???] program, one of the tenets of it is service, the idea of being available to help others in the process of working the program. And I think also the opportunity to get here early to set up—you like that one, Bobbie? Anytime that I've been able to be of service, it helps me to let go. And I don't understand how it works. It's one of those things that… When I'm of service, things are better."
Bobbie: For you and everybody.
Man: "I guess for everybody."
Woman: "Three years ago, I moved from a house in Plano to a condo in Dallas, and I had a lot of books, and I decided I had to discard some books. I invited three friends to come. I did the planning of picking up the books I really wanted, and then leave the friends to take their picks of the books they would want to keep. And then the other books were packed and sent to the library. So it saved my time—if I were to go through every book, it would take me many days. Also, it benefits my friends, who took the books they wanted, and the rest of the books went to the library, and I think some books went to the Salvation Army, I think. So I felt good because it benefits everyone and lessened my workload."
Second woman: "I give my time and food to animals in the neighborhood who aren't really cared for."
Third woman: "I wish I could say that I was doing something generous, but I had this idea that I haven't been able to execute yet. But on that kid's memorabilia stuff where you pick up the Mother's Day card and you go, ‘Aww…' I have this theory that I'm going to take photos of all this stuff and make a little, you can make your own hardback book, and so then I will have my memories without the stuff. That's the theory. I'll let you know when it works."
Bobbie: That's a great idea.
Second man: "Well, Barbara, I hate to put you on the spot, but Barbara was kind enough to bring some bricks from her home. I'm still in the process of building a walking path in my home. And so I want to just publicly say that, you know, we respond to each other, and it's a way of building community."
Bobbie: Great. Thank you. That's beautiful.
So another antidote, especially an antidote for greed, is contentment, or basically being happy with what we have. As Thay said in the mindfulness training, recognizing that we already have enough conditions to be happy right now. I like this Zen saying: "If you understand, things are just as they are. And if you don't understand, things are still just as they are." So we might as well just be content. Although… I think "contentment" sounds really lovely, but I'm finding it more challenging than I thought it would be. And again, this goes back to trying to see within myself these afflicted emotions. One of the women who comes to the Wednesday night sangha shared with us this two-word mantra that she read in a book, and the two words are JUST THIS. So I started meditating with that, breathing in JUST, breathing out THIS, sitting with JUST THIS. I was amazed at how discontented I started to feel. And I really kind of want to see what happens if you try this. So would you be willing to, let's take a minute or two, not much time, and just see what happens when you sit with this little phrase, JUST THIS. And you can do it as you breathe in and out, or simply repeat it, however you want to do it. So maybe let's just have a bell, and let's just do one minute of JUST THIS.
[Bell rings; silence; bell rings.]
So what happened? I'll tell you that it was actually easier for me to relax into JUST THIS here, with you, than it was for me to do it at my house, by myself, because at home, I still had wandering thoughts, I still was… The buzzer on the dryer would go off, and "Oh yeah, there are clothes to hang up. What am I going to make for supper? Do I have…?" You get the point. Being content in each moment, I found challenging. Neal?
Neal: "What I saw was that I'm not present and that I'm constantly going over, like, ‘What am I doing next, like as soon as I leave here?' And then, I have a mild headache that I've had for a couple of days, and I just couldn't be, you know, trying to say JUST THIS, but I just felt… It didn't go away, and yeah… Just mostly that I'm not present. That, um… I mean, I'm partly present. But I'm always, going… not always, but… I'm not as present as going on into the future constantly."
Julie: JUST THIS feels like a big relief and I'm just going to say it. I have striven so hard for the ability to work with a talent that I have that I wore myself out and unbalanced my body, and my mind has no clear solution. This little organ up here that strategizes everything is just… And lately the thing that seems to be softening this is just the very hard thing until I sit down to do it, but just sitting… And I didn't have those words, but just breathing and being here, because in this moment, everything's okay. And it seems like being able to do that can open a door or show the monkey how to turn the bottle over. And it is so much easier to do here. It's very good to do at home, but the energy of everyone's collective consciousness is really good.
Woman: "I felt very calm and very grounded. And I was reminded of, each moment, no matter what I'm doing, the multitasking is really just JUST THIS, and JUST THIS, and JUST THIS, JUST THIS, each moment… It just gets done. It's just… this. And that's what… I could feel my body just relaxing…
Man: "I had kind of the same reaction to the work, just, you know, I, there's a ton of… It's not balanced for me, so I put it like this: THIS NOW, THIS NOW. It worked better for me."
Bobbie: Interesting. When I started doing it, I took the JUST THIS to be, "Nothing else is needed. This moment is complete. Just this. I am content, I am happy, and I complete here now. Just this, this is all I need to take care of right now." So there's no "somebody out there" to complete me. There's no "something out there" that I need in order to be happy. There is nothing missing. There is just this.
Woman: "Maybe could you say, ONLY NOW?"
Bobbie: It doesn't mean the same thing to me because I think of it as more that everything is complete. I don't need anything else. Nothing is missing, nothing is lacking. There is just this. But you know, we all have to find the thing that resonates with us.
So quickly, to summarize, I made a very short list of some practices that will help us transform the afflicted emotion of attachment and its corollaries, clinging, craving, and greed. First on my list is meditation to develop mindfulness. Because when we are mindful of what we're doing, what we're thinking, we are able to make some adjustments. I like the JUST THIS meditation, so that's on my list, and you can change the words to suit you. Being generous with our material goods, our time, our energy, being of service to others is another way too, another practice. And of course the practice of watering the wholesome seeds that are in our store consciousness, the seeds of interbeing. When we see ourselves as intricately connected to everything and everyone else, then there is much less desire for craving or clinging or to be greedy. So watering the wholesome seeds of interbeing, generosity, and contentment are a good practice. And of course, continuing to practice with your sangha: very important, I think, to help us transform our afflicted emotions.