Buddha statue quiet lake
First Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life
Listen to this talk:
First Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life (27 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Bobbie Perkins
June 10, 2018 - Dallas, Texas

My understanding is that one of the first teachings of the Buddha was what we now call the five precepts, recognizing that the first noble truth, which is "suffering occurs," or as it's called in that language, "dukkha," which means any kind of discomfort, from the very smallest discomfort to the most perilous problem. So, knowing that those kinds of things happen, the Buddha said, "You can, if you follow these precepts, you can avoid a lot of suffering." So he said, avoid killing; avoid lying; avoid stealing; avoid sexual misconduct; and don't take in (don't ingest) toxins, avoid taking in (or ingesting) toxins. So our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, took those five precepts and developed mindfulness trainings, or guidelines, to help us train our minds to be more able to follow those precepts. And he also kind of expanded the wording around it so that he would give us a better idea, or some idea, about what was meant by "to avoid killing." So the five mindfulness trainings are a part of this particular tradition following the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Now, a part of the monastic tradition is that monks and nuns (and laypeople as well, but monks and nuns in particular) will take a vow of commitment to the five precepts. And so, in this tradition, in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, we, some of us, decide that we would like to do our best to live according to these precepts. And so we participate in a service, a ceremony: it's called a transmission ceremony, where kind of the energy of this, these trainings, is transmitted to us in a ceremony that's ancient. It probably could be traced back (if we could find writings about it, but it could probably be traced back) to the time of the Buddha. So we're going to have that transmission ceremony next month on July the fifteenth. And in preparation for that, we will be talking about each of the five mindfulness trainings and then some of you, if you like, can decide that you would like to participate in that transmission ceremony. And then you can make a commitment to one or more of the five mindfulness trainings. You don't have to commit to all of them; you can just choose one that you'd like to start with.

And I guess I do also want to say that none of us are expected to be able to live up to all of these things perfectly all the time. They're meant to be a guideline, something to aspire to. And I can tell you that from my own experience of having taken this transmission— what?—seven or eight years ago now, I notice that whether I am consciously trying to follow these guidelines, somehow, over time, it just kind of seeps into my way of being, and my life is transformed because of following these trainings.

I do also want to read one little thing where Thich Nhat Hanh says that his reason for doing this was to offer to the world a Buddhist ethic, a way of living ethically. So... It's right in line with what the Buddha had in mind in the very beginning. So these mindfulness trainings are printed on the back of your newsletter, so if you'd like to kind of follow along, I'm going to read the first mindfulness training, which is called "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."

So if you're just reading that for the first time, I would not be surprised if you think, "Wow, that's a big order. That's a lot to aspire to." And it is! But coming back to the core, to the foundation, the very title, "reverence for life," that, I think, makes it a little more doable. Only just remember that one piece, being reverent and recognizing the worthiness, the qualities of life that we can revere.

So as Cornell mentioned, last week Sharad talked about true love, and in particular he emphasized the four elements of true love, which are lovingkindness; compassion; joy; and inclusiveness. These are the same things we just sang about when we sang, "May all beings be happy, may all beings be free." It's the same, those are the same qualities. One of the things that Thay said ("Thay" is the name we call Thich Nhat Hanh, it's an affectionate name, just means "teacher"), and he said at one point, "You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free." Loving like that demonstrates a reverence for life, which is our topic for this evening.

In the first mindfulness training that we just read, I think one of the keys, one of the key phrases is, "harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance." And I know that we can all recognize those things in ourselves at times. Certainly, we can recognize them in the world as it is today. But fortunately, there's an antidote, and that is that we "cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views, transforming violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism" he said, "in myself and in the world." We know from our own experience that we cannot offer something to someone else if we don't have it for ourselves, so if we're still harboring anger, and resentment, and fear, and all of those kinds of things, it will be very difficult for us to offer peace and equanimity and joy to somebody else.

And so I want to just talk a little bit about that, even though it's a little bit of a downer. Still, I think it's relevant, particularly as I was preparing for this talk and reading from The Mindfulness Survival Kit. Thay says in here, "In the spring of 2013, I visited South Korea. I gave a talk there about peace between South Korea and North Korea in which I proposed that it's not enough to limit the development of a nuclear weapons program." Doesn't that sound kind of spookily relevant? "We have to address the [large]... amount of fear we have [inside] us. If there's no fear, anger, or suspicion, then people aren't going to use nuclear or any other kind of weapons. It's not the absence of nuclear weapons alone that guarantees that two countries can reconcile and have peace. It's by removing fear, anger, and suspicion that we can make... peace possible." And then he goes on to talk about why the country might attempt to make the nuclear weapons, and in his opinion it's not because they want to destroy the other side or somebody they call their enemy, but it's because they're fearful that they will be attacked. So he says, "If you want to offer help anywhere in the world, whether it's in the United States, North and South Korea, the Middle East, or anywhere, you can help to work on removing the fear, anger, and suspicion on both sides." And then of course none of us could do that unless we've been able to eliminate fear, anger, and suspicion within ourselves.

The next thing that I read in here really kind of stunned me, I have to say. I didn't expect to read this sentence. And this is what Thay wrote: "Prayer or good intentions are not enough to change an angry or violent situation." I don't know why that stunned me, but you know, we hear so many—after shootings, after violent things happen—we hear, "You're in our thoughts and prayers," "Our prayers go out to you." Well, that's all kind, you know, it's nice, but it doesn't fix anything, as Thay says. But instead, skillful, mindful responses are necessary. And not just for violent situations but also for our own personal challenges. And the reason we come here to practice, the reason we commit, or make a vow to try to follow these mindfulness trainings—the reason we do all of these things is so we can begin to cultivate within ourselves the skillful, mindful ways of responding to situations that may be very challenging. You know, perhaps not violent, but still, all of us deal with challenging situations, challenging relationships; those kinds of things happen in our lives all the time. So we come here to this practice center to learn how to recognize and transform the fear, the anger, the suspicion, those kinds of things within ourselves, so that when we go about our lives, we are more able to RESPOND to situations rather than to be triggered into a violent or angry reaction.

There was an incident that happened several years ago when we still had the meditation center on Floyd Road. It was just a few minutes before noon and I was preparing to go into the meditation hall to do the noon meditation. And these three youngsters came in. To me, they looked like they were maybe seventeen, eighteen, maybe one of them was twenty. But it was two guys and a girl, and they just kind of wanted to know, what do you do here? And I didn't really have time to spend much time talking with them, so, you know, I gave them a really brief explanation and invited them to sit with us in meditation. And they said, no, they wouldn't, they didn't want to do that right now, so I said, well, you're welcome, and come back whenever you like. And I went into the meditation hall. And they had not left when I went into meditation. So I sat down and almost immediately when I started to meditate, I thought, good grief, are they still here? What are they doing? Could they be stealing things? Could they be breaking stuff? I don't know these people! I was very suspicious, and I was afraid, you know, that they might be actually damaging the property, stealing stuff, who knows? But I didn't get up; I didn't leave meditation. I just finished the meditation, and then of course when I went out, everything was fine. They were no longer there. They had signed the sign-in sheet. You know, it's like, hmm. Nothing was wrong. It was just my mind making up these stories about what could go wrong. And the reason those stories could generate in my mind is because I had within me suspicion and fear. I wasn't angry, but I sure was suspicious. And I was fearful.

So when we have those kinds of seeds within us and we allow them to get watered, then we will come up with all kind of stories that will cause us to react in ways that we do not really want to do. And that's why we come here to practice, so that we consistently water those wholesome seeds, consistently reflect on any areas within ourselves, any areas of fear, anger, suspicion, resentment, all of those kinds of things, so that we can begin to transform those energies within us, so that we don't water those seeds, so that we don't create stories about how we're being mistreated or how we've been a victim or, oh, all of those kinds of stories that create resentment and grief and suffering within us.

I tried to think of an example where an angry or violent situation was skillfully handled and that it ended in a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with one. I'm kind of hoping that one of you will have an example of a violent or angry, violent kind of situation that was peacefully resolved. So think about that, and if you come up with something, let me know. I know there have been a lot of peace treaties signed following wars and trade disagreements and conflicts and all those kinds of things, but there doesn't seem to be much change in the level of fear, anger, and suspicion on both sides. So it's a paper agreement, but it doesn't seem to have settled into the heart of the people, the countries, the communities.

So as I said earlier, in getting more and more into the preparation for this talk, it seemed to me that it was just kind of crashing into a place of depression, a sad, sad situation we're in. In my head I thought, yikes, are we doomed to a life of experiencing this wave after wave of situations that destroy life rather than support it? And almost immediately I felt, phew! of course not. We have choice! We have choice because Thay gave us the antidote. Here's what we do: we cultivate openness, non-discrimination. We let go of our specific views. We get so that we're not attached to any particular views. And then we can transform all of these unwholesome things within us. We can "transform violence, fanaticism, dogmatism," as he says, "in myself and in the world."

So how exactly do we cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views? We're doing it right now! We're practicing! We practice being mindful. We meditate so that we can begin to understand ourselves. We engage with others. We support our practice center and the friends that we meet here. We water the wholesome seeds within ourselves and others. When we engage in this way we are supporting life, not destroying life. We are exemplifying reverence for life.

There are so many ways to sort of water those wholesome seeds, and as I thought about it, it seemed to me that one of the ways that has been very helpful in my life is volunteering: volunteering to be of service to organizations, to schools, to people. And so I thought about some suggestions. But first I'd like to know, because I suspect that quite a few of you do engage in volunteer work. Would you mind just showing me who's doing some kind of volunteer work at the present? Yeah, that's what I thought. So I know many of us, even if you're not currently volunteering somewhere, you've probably done some volunteer work, so you know that it feels good; you feel like you're contributing to the welfare of people, of organizations, and that sort of thing. So in the spirit of that, supporting life and contributing, Cornell and I came up with a list of volunteer opportunities that you can offer to the Dallas Meditation Center. But what I'd really like for you to do is, you know, scan it, take a look... and in a few moments we're going to ask you to sort of divide yourself into small groups and talk about this list together. Maybe you'll think of something that's not on this list. Notice if there's anything you'd like to add to the list, or if there's something on the list that you would be willing to do, or would like to do. And this is, as it says, VOLUNTEER. There's nothing mandatory about this. There's no obligation. You are not being called upon to be obligated to anything.

So some of these, I'm sure, you already know and I know that some of you already do some of this. The first one is, "Help set up for Sunday sangha," "Greet people as they come in on Sunday." "Help with the children's program." Just a little farther down there's a thing that says, "Run occasional errands," and then later it says, I said, "Help with recycling." And that's simply things like... we have, we use, toner cartridges in the printer, and they can be recycled. So we currently have a stack of five or six that need to be taken to Office Depot or Staples or someplace like that. Simple stuff like that. There is also a box, a bag, of rubber bands, which come with the mail, so they could be returned to the post office—or if you have a need for rubber bands, I've got a whole bunch you can have. Stuff like that. Really simple stuff. And then if you like the outreach kind of idea, we think it would be very nice to be able to have someone to send e-mails to people who come here visiting for the first time, send cards to sangha members when they get sick or when they have a baby or a birthday, that sort of thing. And another one that I particularly like is, maybe just tell us why you like DMC. What has DMC done for you? And then we can post it on Facebook, or we can put it in our newsletters so that other people recognize that it's a good place to come. And then the last one of the list is probably the biggest challenge: "BE the volunteer coordinator." I know, that's big, that's a big ask.

So now I would just invite you to kind of organize yourselves into groups of maybe four people, five at the most, and look at this list, talk about it, but also think about how has volunteering kind of enriched your life, and do you think that helping out here at the meditation center might also be a fun and enriching activity?

Transcribed by Meghan Horton

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