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Daily Reflections, Messages and Affirmations
Positive Readings for each day of Enlightenment Month

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MAY 2011
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Enlightenment Month Daily Messages
Day #1

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

"Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in such a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others. Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

Affirmation:

I take refuge in the Mind of Awakening, that which shows me the Way in this life.

I take refuge in the Path of Awakening, the Way of understanding and of love.

I take refuge in the Community of Awakening, those who live in harmony and awareness.

Today is the first day of May as "Enlightenment Month." And tomorrow is the full moon of "Wesak," the internationally recognized day that all Buddhists worldwide are invited to celebrate as the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and passing or "parinirvana" (ultimate freedom). And in a couple of weeks, many East Asian countries, such as China, will be celebrating this same day according to their lunar calendar (the 8th day of their 4th month . . . incidentally, 8 and 4 are sacred numbers to Buddhists, as in the 4 Noble Truths and the 8-fold Path of Enlightenment, etc.). And the Japanese Buddhists, of course, already celebrated Buddha's Birthday on April 8th (using the common Western calendar). And although the Tibetan Buddhists will be celebrating Buddha's Birthday on the same day as the Chinese Buddhists this year, sometimes their calendar is one month ahead of the Chinese calendar and so they sometimes celebrate it as late as mid-June. Because different cultures use different calendar systems, it was decided a few years ago at an international gathering of Buddhist leaders to make the full moon in Taurus (usually in May) as the officially recognized day of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and parinirvana for international purposes of planetary unity. And, in keeping with this spirit, I would like to propose that we make May of 2007 as the first annual observance of the entire month of May as "Enlightenment Month" as a way to invite people of all faiths to celebrate awakening together.

So, I invite you to make a commitment today, in your heart, to practice mindfulness every day of this month, to meditate for at least 20 min. at least 3 times a week (and if you already meditate regularly, then commit to practicing at least 30-40 min. every day, and perhaps even twice a day), to participate in group meditation at least 4 times this month (an average of once a week), and to set aside at least 1 day this month as an intentional "Sabbath" day of mindfulness (whether alone, with friends or in a formal retreat setting). And, if you like to read, I encourage you to go and buy Thich Nhat Hanh's novel based on the Buddha's life story, entitled "Old Path, White Clouds," and read it mindfully over the course of the month. This novel is currently being made into a movie that will be released next year as a major motion picture. After reading it, you will feel much closer to the Buddha, as a true friend. When I read it a few years ago, it completely transformed my practice. Bon voyage!

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #2

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

"We don't have to travel far away to enjoy the blue sky. We don't have to leave the city or even our neighborhood to enjoy the eyes of a beautiful child. Even the air we breathe can be a source of joy. We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

Affirmation:

As I look at the full moon tonight, I bow in gratitude for the Light of Awakening reflected in everything I experience and everything I am.

Today is the first full moon of May and the official celebration of Vesak, or Buddha Day (a few countries will also celebrate it in mid and late May). As mentioned yesterday, I propose that we observe the whole month of May from this year onward as "Buddha Month" or "Enlightenment Month."

We are living in a most crucial and critical time in world history. As Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, "for a future to be possible, our enlightenment must be collective." There are Three Refuges that we can partake of to support us through these times of great transition. Traditionally, they are called the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. In more Interfaith language, you might like to call them the Three Treasures of the Mind of Awakening, the Path of Awakening, and the Community of Awakening.

It is always important to find gems of inspiration in our lives. What or who inspires you in awakening to your True Nature?

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #3

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

"When we say, 'I take refuge in the Buddha,' we can also understand that 'The Buddha takes refuge in me,' because without the second part the first part isn't complete. The Buddha needs us for awakening, understanding, and love to be real things and not just concepts. They must be real things that have real effects on life. Whenever I say, 'I take refuge in the Buddha,' I hear 'Buddha takes refuge in me.' "

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

Affirmation:

I entrust myself to the Universe,

The Universe entrusts herself to me.

I entrust myself to Buddha,

Buddha entrusts himself to me.

When I take refuge in the Buddha, I entrust myself to the possibility of awakening, even in this life, yes even in this moment. I surrender to the flow of the Universe which is one great Buddha-making machine, or rather, one great Buddha-manifesting organism. I open my heart to the joyful confidence that awakening is real and possible because Buddha Nature is the primary reality that serves as the very ground of being. I can have this confidence because I see examples of those who are awakened or at least well on the path of awakening, such as Thich Nhat Hanh and others. I can believe that someone called the Buddha lived 2,600 years ago because there are Buddha-like persons alive today. And I can believe that I have the potential to awaken to my Buddhahood because of my Buddha-like teachers and friends. And so, I take refuge in my teachers, in my spiritual ancestors, in the Buddha, and in my own True Nature. And yes, the Buddha takes refuge in me, too. Buddham saranam gacchami.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #4

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

Affirmation:

I open my heart to the Dharma in everything and in everyone.

I am a manifestation of Dharma just by being who I am.

I am love, I am understanding.

"Dharma is what the Buddha taught. It is the way of understanding and love — how to understand, how to love, how to make understanding and love into real things. Anything that can help you wake up has Buddha nature. When I am alone and a bird calls me, I return to myself. I breathe, and I smile. Not only sounds, but sights can remind you to return to your true self. In the morning when you open your window and see the light streaming in, you can recognize it as the voice of the Dharma. That is why people who are awake see the manifestation of the Dharma in everything. A pebble, a bamboo tree, the cry of a baby, anything can be the voice of the Dharma calling. And Dharma is not just expressed in words, in sounds. It can express itself in just being. We can learn the Dharma from an oak tree. We can learn from everything that is around, that is in us. Everything is preaching the Dharma. Each pebble, each leaf, each flower is preaching the Dharma."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

In thunderous silence,
a thousand messages are conveyed,
heart to heart.

I breathe,
you smile,
and the Dharma of interbeing
     radiates everywhere effortlessly.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #5

May is Enlightenment Month

Dear mindful friends,

Because of the importance of the Third Jewel of Sangha in our mindfulness practice, I have chosen today not to go with the usual format of short Reflection, Message and Affirmation. Here is an entire Dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh on Sangha. Please read and practice it deeply, for your sake, for my sake, for the sake of the world. Thank you.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

The Practice of Sangha

Thich Nhat Hanh explains that sangha is more than a community, it's a deep spiritual practice.

A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. When you do not see these in a community, it is not a true sangha, and you should have the courage to say so. But when you find these elements are present in a community, you know that you have the happiness and fortune of being in a real sangha.

In Matthew 5:13 in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, we find this statement: "Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden underfoot of men." In this passage, Jesus describes his followers as salt. Food needs salt in order to be tasty. Life needs understanding, compassion and harmony in order to be livable. This is the most important contribution to life that the followers of Jesus can bring to the world. It means that the Kingdom of Heaven has to be realized here, not somewhere else, and that Christians need to practice in a way that they are the salt of life and a true community of Christians.

Salt is also an important image in the Buddhist canon, and this Christian teaching is equivalent to the Buddha's teaching about sangha. The Buddha said that the water in the four oceans has only one taste, the taste of salt, just as his teaching has only one taste, the taste of liberation. Therefore the elements of sangha are the taste of life, the taste of liberation, and we have to practice in order to become the salt. When we say, "I take refuge in the sangha," it is not a statement, it is a practice. In the Buddhist scriptures it is said that there are four communities: monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. But I also include elements that are not human in the sangha. The trees, water, air, birds, and so on can all be members of our sangha. A beautiful walking path may be part of our sangha. A good cushion can be also. We can make many things into supportive elements of our sangha. This idea is not entirely new; it can be found throughout the sutras and in the Abhidharma, too. A pebble, a leaf and a dahlia are mentioned in the Saddharmapundarika Sutra in this respect. It is said in the Pure Land Sutra that if you are mindful, then when the wind blows through the trees, you will hear the teaching of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Eightfold Path, and so on. The whole cosmos is preaching the buddhadharma and practicing the buddhadharma. If you are attentive, you will get in touch with that sangha.

Sangha as our roots

I don't think the Buddha wanted us to abandon our society, our culture or our roots in order to practice. The practice of Buddhism should help people go back to their families. It should help people re-enter society in order to rediscover and accept the good things that are there in their culture and to rebuild those that are not.

Our modern society creates so many young people without roots. They are uprooted from their families and their society; they wander around, not quite human beings, because they do not have roots. Quite a number of them come from broken families and feel rejected by society. They live on the margins, looking for a home, for something to belong to. They are like trees without roots. For these people, it's very difficult to practice. A tree without roots cannot absorb anything; it cannot survive. Even if they practice intensively for ten years, it's very hard for them to be transformed if they remain an island, if they cannot establish a link with other people.

A community of practice, a sangha, can provide a second chance to a young person who comes from a broken family or is alienated from his or her society. If the community of practice is organized as a family with a friendly, warm atmosphere, young people can succeed in their practice.

Suffering (dukkha) is one of the biggest problems of our times. First we have to recognize this suffering and acknowledge it. Then we need to look deeply into its nature in order to find a way out. If we look into the present situation in ourselves and our society, we can see much suffering. We need to call it by its true names—loneliness, the feeling of being cut off, alienation, division, the disintegration of the family, the disintegration of society.

Our civilization, our culture, has been characterized by individualism. The individual wants to be free from the society, from the family. The individual does not think he or she needs to take refuge in the family or in the society, and thinks that he or she can be happy without a sangha. That is why we do not have solidity, we do not have harmony, we do not have the communication that we so need.

The practice is, therefore, to grow some roots. The sangha is not a place to hide in order to avoid your responsibilities. The sangha is a place to practice for the transformation and the healing of self and society. When you are strong, you can be there in order to help society. If your society is in trouble, if your family is broken, if your church is no longer capable of providing you with spiritual life, then you work to take refuge in the sangha so that you can restore your strength, your understanding, your compassion, your confidence. And then in turn you can use that strength, understanding and compassion to rebuild your family and society, to renew your church, to restore communication and harmony. This can only be done as a community—not as an individual, but as a sangha.

In order for us to develop some roots, we need the kind of environment that can help us become rooted. A sangha is not a community of practice in which each person is an island, unable to communicate with each other—this is not a true sangha. No healing or transformation will result from such a sangha. A true sangha should be like a family in which there is a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.

There is a lot of suffering, yes, and we have to embrace all this suffering. But to get strong, we also need to touch the positive elements, and when we are strong, we can embrace the suffering in us and all around us. If we see a group of people living mindfully, capable of smiling, of loving, we gain confidence in our future. When we practice mindful breathing, smiling, resting, walking and working, then we become a positive element in society, and we will inspire confidence all around us. This is the way to avoid letting despair overwhelm us. It is also the way to help the younger generation so they do not lose hope. It is very important that we live our daily life in such a way that demonstrates that a future is possible.

We need a sangha

In my tradition we learn that as individuals we cannot do much. That is why taking refuge in the sangha, taking refuge in the community, is a very strong and important practice. When I say, "I take refuge in the sangha," it does not mean that I want to express my devotion. No. It's not a question of devotion; it's a question of practice. Without being in a sangha, without being supported by a group of friends who are motivated by the same ideal and practice, we cannot go far.

If we do not have a supportive sangha, we may not be getting the kind of support we need for our practice, that we need to nourish our bodhichitta (the strong desire to cultivate love and understanding in ourselves). Sometimes we call it "beginner's mind." The mind of a beginner is always very beautiful, very strong. In a good and healthy sangha, there is encouragement for our beginner's mind, for our bodhichitta. So the sangha is the soil and we are the seed. No matter how beautiful, how vigorous our seed is, if the soil does not provide us with vitality, our seed will die.

One of the brothers from Plum Village, Brother Phap Dung, went to Vietnam some years ago with a few members of the sangha. It was a very important experience for him. He had been in the West since he was a small child. Then when he went to northern Vietnam, he got in touch with some of the most ancient elements in Vietnamese culture and with the mountains and the rivers of northern Vietnam. He wrote to me and said, "Our land of Vietnam is so beautiful, it is as beautiful as a dream. I don't dare take heavy steps on this earth of Vietnam." By this he meant that he had right mindfulness when he walked. His right mindfulness was due to the practice and support he had in the sangha before he went to Vietnam. That is beginner's mind, the mind you have in the beginning when you undertake the practice. It's very beautiful and very precious, but that beginner's mind can be broken, can be destroyed, can be lost if it is not nourished or supported by a sangha.

Although he had his little sangha near him in Vietnam, the environment was very distracting, and he saw that if he stayed too long without the larger sangha, he would be swept away by that environment, by his forgetfulness—not only his own forgetfulness, but the forgetfulness of everybody around him. This is because right mindfulness for someone who has only just started the practice is still weak, and the forgetfulness of the people around us is very great and capable of dragging us away in the direction of the five cravings.

To practice right mindfulness we need the right environment, and that environment is our sangha. Without a sangha we are very weak. In a society where everyone is rushing, everyone is being carried away by their habit energies, practice is very difficult. That is why the sangha is our salvation. The sangha where everyone is practicing mindful walking, mindful speaking, mindful eating seems to be the only chance for us to succeed in ending the vicious cycle.

And what is the sangha? The sangha is a community of people who agree with each other that if we do not practice right mindfulness, we will lose all the beautiful things in our soul and all around us. People in the sangha standing near us, practicing with us, support us so that we are not pulled away from the present moment. Whenever we find ourselves in a difficult situation, two or three friends in the sangha who are there for us, understanding and helping us, will get us through it. Even in our silent practice we help each other.

In my tradition they say that when a tiger leaves the mountain and goes to the lowland, it will be caught by humans and killed. When practitioners leave their sangha, they will abandon their practice after a few months. In order to continue our practice of transformation and healing, we need a sangha. With a sangha it's much easier to practice, and that is why I always take refuge in my sangha.

How a sangha helps us

The presence of a sangha is a wonderful opportunity to allow the collective energy of the sangha to penetrate into our body and consciousness. We profit a lot from that collective energy. We can entrust ourselves to the sangha because the sangha is practicing, and the collective energy of mindfulness is strong. Although we can rely on the energy of mindfulness that is generated by our personal practice, sometimes it is not enough. But if you know how to use that energy of mindfulness in order to receive the collective energy of the sangha, you will have a powerful source of energy for your transformation and healing.

Your body, your consciousness, and your environment are like a garden. There may be a few trees and bushes that are dying, and you may feel overwhelmed by anguish and suffering at the sight of that. You may be unaware that there are still many trees in your garden that are solid, vigorous and beautiful. When members of your sangha come into your garden, they can help you see that you still have a lot of beautiful trees and that you can enjoy the things that have not gone wrong within your landscape. That is the role that the sangha can play. Many people in the sangha are capable of enjoying a beautiful sunset or a cup of tea. They dwell firmly in the present moment, not allowing worries or regrets to spoil the present moment. Sitting close to these people, walking close to these people, you can profit from their energy and restore your balance. When their energy of mindfulness is combined with yours, you will be able to touch beauty and happiness.

Nothing is more important than your peace and happiness in the here and now. One day you will lie like a dead body and no longer be able to touch the beauty of a flower. Make good use of your time; practice touching the positive aspects of life in you and around you.

Don't lock yourself behind your door and fight alone. If you think that by yourself you cannot go back to embrace strong feelings, you can ask one, two or three friends to sit next to you and to help you with their support. They can give you mindfulness energy so that you can go back home with strength. They can say, "My brother, I know that the pain in you is very deep, and I am here for you."

Taking refuge in the sangha is a very important practice. Abandoned, alone, you get lost, you get carried away. So taking refuge in the sangha is a very deep practice, especially for those of us who feel vulnerable, shaky, agitated and unstable. That is why you come to a practice center, to take refuge in the sangha. You allow the sangha to transport you like a boat so that you can cross the ocean of sorrow.

When we throw a rock into a river the rock will sink. But if we have a boat, the boat can carry hundreds of pounds of rocks and it will not sink. The same thing is true with our sorrow and pain. If we have a boat, we can carry our pain and sorrow, and we will not sink into the river of suffering. And what is that boat? That boat is, first of all, the energy of mindfulness that you generate by your practice. That boat is also the sangha—the community of practice consisting of brothers and sisters in the dharma.

We don't have to bring just joy when we come to the sangha; we can also bring our suffering with us. But we have to walk on the path of joy with our suffering, we have to share joy with our brothers and sisters. Then we will be in touch with the seeds of happiness in ourselves, and the suffering will grow weaker and be transformed. Allow yourself to be supported, to be held by the sangha. When you allow yourself to be in a sangha the way a drop of water allows itself to be in a river, the energy of the sangha can penetrate into you, and transformation and healing will become possible.

Practice is easier with a sangha

The only way to support the Buddha, to support our sangha, to support the earth, to support our children and future generations, is to really be here for them. "Darling, I am here for you" is a statement of love. You need to be here. If you are not here, how can you love? That is why the practice of meditation is the practice of being here for the ones we love.

To be present sounds like an easy thing to do. For many of us, it is easy because we have made it a habit. We are in the habit of dwelling in the present moment, of touching the morning sunshine deeply, of drinking our morning tea deeply, of sitting and being present with the person we love. But for some of us it may not be so easy, because we have not cultivated the habit of being in the here and the now. We are always running, and it is hard for us to stop and be here in the present moment, to encounter life. For those of us who have not learned to be present, we need to be supported in that kind of learning. It's not difficult when you are supported by the sangha. With sangha you will be able to learn the art of stopping.

The sangha is a wonderful home. Every time you go back to the sangha, you feel that you can breathe more easily, you can walk more mindfully, you can better enjoy the blue sky, the white clouds and the cypress tree in your yard. Why? Because the sangha members practice going home many times a day—through walking, breathing, cooking and doing their daily activities mindfully. Everyone in the sangha is practicing in the same way, walking mindfully, sitting mindfully, eating mindfully, smiling, enjoying each moment of life.

When I practice walking I make mindful and beautiful steps. I do that not only for myself but also for all of my friends who are here; because everyone who sees me taking a step like that has confidence and is reminded to do the same. And when they make a step in the present moment, smiling and making peace with themselves, they inspire all of us. You breathe for me, I walk for you, we do things together, and this is practicing as a sangha. You don't need to make much effort; your practice is easy, because you feel that you are supported by the sangha.

When we sit together as a sangha, we enjoy the collective energy of mindfulness, and each of us allows the mindful energy of the sangha to penetrate us. Even if you don't do anything, if you just stop thinking and allow yourself to absorb the collective energy of the sangha, it's very healing. Don't struggle, don't try to do something, just allow yourself to be with the sangha. Allow yourself to rest, and the energy of the sangha will help you, will carry and support you. The sangha is there to make the training easy. When we are surrounded by brothers and sisters doing exactly the same thing, it is easy to flow in the stream of the sangha.

As individuals we have problems, and we also have problems in our families, our societies and our nations. Meditation in the twenty-first century should become a collective practice; without a sangha we cannot achieve much. When we begin to focus our attention on the suffering on a larger scale, we begin to connect with and to relate to other people, who are also ourselves, and the little problems that we have within our individual circle will vanish. In this way our loneliness or our feeling of being cut off will no longer be there, and we will be able to do things together.

If we work on our problems alone, it becomes more difficult. When you have a strong emotion come up, you may feel that you cannot stand it. You may have a breakdown or want to die. But if you have someone, a good friend sitting with you, you feel much better. You feel supported and you have more strength in order to deal with your strong emotion. If you are taking something into your body that is toxic, even realizing that it will make you sick, you may not be able to change your habit. But if you are surrounded by people who do not have the same problem, it becomes easier to change. That is why it is very important to practice in the context of a sangha.

Because you feel supported there, the sangha is the most appropriate setting and environment for the practice of looking deeply. If you have a sangha of two, three, maybe even fifty people who are practicing correctly—getting joy, peace and happiness from the practice—then you are the luckiest person on earth.

So practice in the setting of the sangha is much easier. We don't have to practice so intensely. Our practice becomes the practice of "non-practice." That means a lot. We don't have to force ourselves to practice. We can give up all the struggle and allow ourselves to be, to rest. For this, however, we need a little bit of training, and the sangha is there to make the training easy. Being aware that we are in a sangha where people are happy with being mindful, where people are living deeply the moments of their days, that is enough. I always feel happy in the presence of a happy sangha. If you put yourself in such an environment, then transformation will happen without much effort. This is my experience.

Practicing in the sangha

If you are a beginner in the practice, you should not worry about what is the correct thing to do. When surrounded by many people, we might be caught by the idea, "I don't know what is the right thing to do." That idea may make us very uncomfortable. We may think, "I feel embarrassed that I'm not doing the right thing. There are people who are bowing, and I am not bowing. People are walking slowly, and I am walking a little bit too fast." So the idea that we may not be doing the right thing can embarrass us.

I would like to tell you what is really the right thing. The right thing is to do whatever you are doing in mindfulness. Mindfulness is keeping one's consciousness alive to the present reality. To bow may not be the right thing to do if you don't bow in mindfulness. If you don't bow but are mindful, not bowing is the right thing. Even if people are walking slowly and you run, you are doing the right thing if you run mindfully. The wrong thing is whatever you do without mindfulness. If we understand this, we will not be embarrassed anymore. Everything we do is right provided we do it in mindfulness. To bow or not to bow, that is not the question. The question is whether to bow in mindfulness or not, or not to bow in mindfulness or not.

If you take a step and you feel peaceful and happy, you know that is the correct practice. You are the only one who knows whether you are doing it correctly or not. No one else can judge. When you practice breathing in and out, if you feel peaceful, if you enjoy your in-breath and out-breath, you know you are doing it correctly. You are the best one to know. Have confidence in yourself. Wherever you find yourself, if you feel you are at ease and peaceful, that you are not under pressure, then you know you are doing it right.

The function of the bell in a sangha is to bring us back to ourselves. When we hear the bell we come back to ourselves and breathe, and at that point we improve the quality of the sangha energy. We know that our brother and our sister, wherever they are, will be stopping, breathing, and coming back to themselves. They will be generating the energy of right mindfulness, the sangha energy. When we look at each other, we feel confident, because everyone is practicing together in the same way and contributing to the quality of the sangha. So we are friends on the path of practice.

The sangha is made out of the work of individuals, so we have the duty to help create the energy of the sangha. Our presence, when it is a mindful presence, contributes to that energy. When we are absent during the activities of the sangha, we are not contributing to sangha energy. If we don't go to a sitting meditation, we are not feeding our sangha. We are also letting ourselves go hungry, because we are not benefiting from the sangha.

We don't profit from the sangha, and the sangha doesn't profit from us. Don't think that we sit for ourselves. You don't sit for yourself alone, you sit for the whole sangha—not only the sangha, but also for the people in your city, because when one person in the city is less angry, is smiling more, the whole city profits. If we practice looking deeply, our understanding of interbeing will grow, and we will see that every smile, every step, every breath is for everybody. It is for our country, for the future, for our ancestors.

The best thing we can do is to transform ourselves into a positive element of the sangha. If members of the sangha see us practicing well, they will have confidence and do better. If there are two, three, four, five, six, seven of you like that in the sangha, I'm sure the sangha will be a happy sangha and will be the refuge of many people in the world.

The sangha isn't perfect

Our transformation and healing depend on the quality of the sangha. If there are enough people smiling and happy in the sangha, the sangha has more power to heal and transform. So you have to invest in your sangha. Every member of the sangha has his or her weaknesses and strengths, and you have to recognize them in order to make good use of the positive elements for the sake of the whole sangha. You also have to recognize the negative elements so that you and the whole sangha can help embrace them. You don't leave that negative element to the person alone, because he may not be able to hold and transform it by himself.

You don't need a perfect sangha—a family or a community doesn't have to be perfect in order to be helpful. In fact, the sangha at the time of the Buddha was not perfect. But it was enough for people to take refuge in, because in the sangha there were people who had enough compassion, solidity and insight to embrace others who did not have as much compassion, solidity and insight. I also have some difficulties with my sangha, but I'm very happy because everyone tries to practice in my sangha.

If we lived in a sangha where everyone was perfect, everyone was a bodhisattva or a buddha, that would be very difficult for us. Weakness in the other person is very important, and weakness within yourself is also very important. Anger is in us, jealousy is in us, arrogance is in us. These kinds of things are very human. It is thanks to the presence of weakness in you and weakness in a brother or a sister that you learn how to practice. To practice is to have an opportunity to transform. So it is through our shortcomings that we learn to practice.

There are some people who think of leaving the sangha when they encounter difficulties with other sangha members. They cannot bear little injustices inflicted on them because their hearts are small. To help your heart grow bigger and bigger, understanding and love are necessary. Your heart can grow as big as the cosmos; the growth of your heart is infinite. If your heart is like a big river, you can receive any amount of dirt. It will not affect you, and you can transform the dirt very easily.

The Buddha used this image. If you put a little dirt in a pitcher of water, then that water has to be thrown away. People cannot drink it. But if you put the same amount of dirt into a huge river, people can continue to drink from the river, because the river is so immense. Overnight that dirt will be transformed within the heart of the river. So if your heart is as big as a river, you can receive any amount of injustice and still live with happiness. You can transform overnight the injustices inflicted on you. If you still suffer, your heart is still not large enough. That is the teaching of forbearance and inclusiveness in Buddhism. You don't practice to suppress your suffering; you practice in order for your heart to expand as big as a river.

One time the Buddha said to his disciples: "There are people among us who do not have the same capacity as we do. They do not have the capacity to act rightly or to speak rightly. But if we look deeply, we see in their hearts that there are good seeds, and therefore we have to treat those people in such a way that those good seeds will not be lost." Among us there are people who we may think do not have the capacity to practice as well as we do. But we should know that those people also have good seeds, and we have to cultivate those good seeds in such a way that these good seeds have a chance to be watered and to sprout.

The Buddha saw all his disciples as his children, and I think of mine in the same way. Any disciple of mine is my child that I have given birth to. In my heart I feel at ease, I feel light and happy, even though that child may still have a problem. You can use that method, too. If there is a person in the sangha who troubles you, don't give up hope. Remember, "My teacher has given birth to that child. How can I practice in order to see that person as my sister? Then my heart will feel more at ease and I will be able to accept her. That person is still my sister, whether I want her to be or not." That feeling and those words can help dissolve the irritation that you are having with that person.

If we have harmony in the sangha, we can give confidence to many people. We don't need to be perfect. I myself am not perfect, and you don't need to be perfect either. But if in your own way you can express your harmony in the sangha, this is your gift.

In the sangha there must be difficult people. These difficult people are a good thing for you—they will test your capacity of sangha-building and practicing. One day when that person says something that is not very nice to you, you'll be able to smile and it won't make you suffer at all. Your compassion will have been born and you will be capable of embracing him or her within your compassion and your understanding. Then you will know that your practice has grown. You should be delighted that such an act does not make you angry or sad anymore, that you have enough compassion and understanding to embrace it. That is why you should not be tempted to eliminate the elements that you think are difficult in your sangha.

I am speaking to you out of my experience. I now have a lot more patience and compassion, and because I have more patience and compassion, my happiness has grown much greater. You suffer because your understanding and compassion are not yet large enough to embrace difficult people, but with the practice you will grow, your heart will grow, your understanding and compassion will grow, and you won't suffer anymore. And thanks to the sangha practicing together, thanks to your model of practice, those people will transform. That is a great success, much greater than in the case of people who are easy to get along with.

I take refuge in the sangha

The reason we take refuge in anything is because we need protection. But very often we take refuge in people or things that are not at all solid. We may feel that we are not strong enough to be on our own, so we are tempted to look for someone to take refuge in. We are inclined to think that if we have someone who is strong and can be our refuge, then our life will be easier. We need to be very careful, because if we take refuge in a person who has no stability at all, then the little bit of solidity we have ourselves will be entirely lost. Many people have done that and they have lost the little solidity and freedom they once had.

When a situation is dangerous, you need to escape, you need to take refuge in a place that is safe, that is solid. Earth is something we can take refuge in because it is solid. We can build houses on earth, but we cannot build on sand. The sangha is the same. Mindfulness, concentration and insight have built up sanghas and individuals that are solid, so when you take refuge in the sangha, you take refuge in the most solid elements.

When you are angry, if you know how to go back to your mindful breathing and take refuge in your mindfulness, you become strong. You can dwell peacefully in that moment and you are capable of dealing with the situation in a much more lucid way. You know that within you there are the elements of mindfulness, concentration and insight. Those seeds are always there. If you have a friend, a teacher, a sangha that can help you to touch those seeds and help them to grow, then you have the best kind of protection.

This is the role sangha plays in supporting, protecting and nourishing us. In the sangha there is stability and joy. The sangha is devoted to the practice of mindfulness, concentration and insight, and while everyone in the sangha profits from his or her own mindfulness, they can also take refuge in the collective energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight of the sangha. That is why there is a sense of solidity and security in the sangha. We are not afraid because the sangha is there to protect us.

It is like the flocks of wild geese that travel together from the north to the south in huge numbers. If one bird goes off on its own, it will be easily caught, but if they stay together, they are much safer. Near Plum Village there are hunters who use a bird cry to lure the geese down. If a wild goose leaves the flock and comes down alone, he will easily be shot by the hunters.

It's the same with the sangha. If we think we can live alone, apart from the sangha, we don't know our own strength or our own weakness. Thanks to the sangha we do not enter paths of darkness and suffering. Even when the sangha doesn't seem to be doing anything at all, in fact it is doing a lot, because in the sangha there is protection.

Without the sangha we easily fall into the traps of the five cravings. Once in those traps, we will be burnt by the flames of the afflictions and suffering. Keeping the mindfulness trainings and taking refuge in the sangha's protection is a very good way to avoid being caught in the traps of the five cravings. We keep the mindfulness trainings so that they protect us. The rest of the sangha will also be keeping the same mindfulness trainings and helping us.

Some people have told me that they have never felt secure before coming to a retreat. Then after sitting, eating and walking mindfully with the sangha, for the first time they get a feeling of security. Even small creatures living nearby feel safer, because we are mindful and do our best not to harm them. That feeling of security can lead to joy. We can practice like this:

Breathing in, I see that I am part of a sangha, and I am being protected by my sangha.
Breathing out, I feel joy.

The dharma can protect you—dharma not in the sense of a dharma talk or a book—but dharma as the practice embodied by people like yourself. When you practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful listening to the bell, you bring into yourself the elements of peace and stability, and you are protected during that time. You begin to radiate the energy of stability and peace all around you. This will help to protect your children and your loved ones. Although you may not give a dharma talk with your words, you are giving a dharma talk with your body, with your in-breath, with your out-breath, with your life. That is the living dharma. We need that very much, just as we need the living sangha.


Reprinted from Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities (2002) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, www.parallax.org.
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Day #6

May is Enlightenment Month

Today is the first Sunday after the Full Moon of Buddha Day (Vesak). Please read the message that is written on the following website and, if it resonates with you, share the link with others:

     www.TheGreatShiftHasBegun.com

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Day #7

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

Affirmation:

Every time I stop to breathe mindfully in the here and now, I dis-identify with the habitual clouds of thoughts, feelings, dramas, stories and delusions, and I re-identify with the True Self, True Nature, vast and spacious like the sky, free and clear and infinite.

I am not the clouds of distraction.

I am the sky of deep Awareness and Being-ness.

"Here is a helpful gatha [meditation verse]: 'Breathing in, breathing out. Calming, smiling. Present moment, wonderful moment.' While you meditate you can recite that, and while you practice mindful walking you can use that, or you can use other methods, like counting the breath: Breathing in, one; breathing out, one. Breathing in, two; breathing out, two. In, three; out, three; etc., up until ten, then start again at one. If you lose your count, simply start again at one. Counting the breath is one of the ways to educate yourself for concentration (samadhi). If you do not have enough concentration, you cannot be strong enough to break through, to have a breakthrough into a subject of your meditation. Therefore mindful breathing, walking, sitting, and other practices are primarily for you to realize some degree of concentration. This is called 'stopping' (shamatha), the first aspect of meditation."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

We are now completing the first week of Enlightenment Month. We had a beautiful gathering of about 30 persons last night for meditation, music, chanting, teachings, sharings, and community. So, how is our mindfulness practice at home going so far? What are our current priorities? And are they in harmony with the priorities of the Universe? As we breathe and sit and walk and live in mindfulness each day, we can ask ourselves these questions very lightly, just at the back of our mind, and allow the questions to find answers at the depths of our consciousness. Our ability to stop every day for 20 minutes or more, to unplug from the system, from living on cultural auto-pilot, is directly connected to our ability to truly know who we really are, to be at peace, to be happy and loving and wise. Meditation is a counter-cultural and revolutionary act. It is an act of love. So, stop . . . in the name of love. :-)

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #8

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

"According to the Lotus Sutra, we have to live in the historical and ultimate dimensions of reality at the same time. We have to live deeply our life as a wave [manifestation] so we can touch the substance of water [essential nature] in us. We walk, look, breathe, and eat in a way that we touch the absolute dimension of reality. We transcend birth and death and the fears of being and nonbeing, one and many.

"The Buddha is not found only on Gridhrakuta, the Vulture Peak [the place in India where he delivered the message of the Lotus Sutra many centuries ago]. If you were to hear on the radio that the Buddha is going to reappear on Gridhrakuta Mountain and the public is invited to join him for walking meditation, all the seats on all the airplanes to India would be booked, and you might feel frustrated, because you want to go, also. Even if you were lucky enough to get a seat on that plane, it still might not be possible for you to enjoy practicing walking meditation with the Buddha. There would be so many people, most of whom don't know how to practice breathing in and out and dwelling in the present moment while walking. What is the use of going there?

"Look deeply at your intention. Do you want to fly halfway around the world so that later you can say you were with the Buddha? Many people want to do just that. They arrive at a place of pilgrimage, unable to be in the here and the now. After a few minutes of seeing the place, they rush to the next place. They take pictures to prove they were there, and they are eager to return home to show their friends. 'I was there. I have proof. That is me standing beside the Buddha.' That would be the desire of many of the people who would go there. They are not able to walk with the Buddha. They are not able to be in the here and the now. They only want to say, 'I was there, and this is me standing beside the Buddha.' But it is not true. They were not there. And that is not the Buddha. 'Being there' is a concept, and the Buddha that you see is a mere appearance. You cannot photograph the real Buddha, even if you have a very expensive camera.

"If you don't have the opportunity to fly to India, please practice walking at home, and you can really hold the hand of the Buddha while you walk. Just walk in peace and happiness, and the Buddha is there with you. The one who flies to India and returns with his photo taken with the Buddha has not seen the real Buddha. You have the reality; he has only a sign. Don't run around looking for photo opportunities. Touch the real Buddha. He is available. Take his hand and practice walking meditation. When you can touch the ultimate dimension, you walk with the Buddha. The wave does not need to die to become water. She is already water. This is the 'samadhi' (concentration) [essential practice] of the Lotus Sutra. Live every moment of your life deeply, and while walking, eating, drinking, and looking at the morning star, you touch the ultimate dimension."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

Affirmation:

Breathing in and breathing out, I mindfully plan and make wise preparations for the future. And I do so with a deep awareness that even planning and preparing for the future can only take place in the present moment, here and now.

When my sister-in-law announced that she was pregnant with my brother's first baby, I felt a sense of joy and anticipation, knowing that in less than nine months, a new child would be born into our family. My sister-in-law did not simply wait nine months, though, before taking care of her child. Even before the baby was born, she was taking care of the child by taking care of herself. When the baby was born, I remember thinking to myself that I would have to wait a few years before I could begin teaching my new niece how to meditate. But just after that thought, I caught myself, and I remembered that the process of loving and giving and teaching starts right here and right now. Sure, there are always important milestones, life markers and sign-posts along life's journey, such as birth, teething, first words, potty-training, first day of school, puberty, high school graduation, etc. But we don't just simply wait for those events in the future. Life is only lived here and now. Enlightenment is only realized here and now. Yes, there are great events coming up ahead in the life of our world. And we can anticipate them with hope and wonder, but we must always do so with our feet firmly planted in the here and now. The past is only contained in the present. The future is only made from the present. Why not, then, enjoy deeply this present moment, come what may? Enlightenment begins now. Awakening starts now. Buddha is now.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #9

May is Enlightenment Month

Today, our beloved teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, is ending his 3-month visit to his homeland of Vietnam. For 39 years, he lived in exile from his own country. Then, last year and this year, doors finally opened for him to return to Vietnam. May we hold him in our hearts with prayerful mindfulness as he flies back to America and France today.

I want to encourage all of us to go to one of his retreats this summer, in France, Boston, Colorado, or San Diego. I and a few others from Dallas will be going to the Boston retreat in mid August. You can find out more at:

www.PlumVillage.org
or
www.DeerParkMonastery.org
or
www.IAmHome.org

And please prayerfully hold in your mindfulness the big "Buddha" movie that is being produced right now in Hollywood, based on Thich Nhat Hanh's novel on the Buddha's life, "Old Path, White Clouds." It will come out in theaters next year. Also, we hope to invite Thich Nhat Hanh to come to Dallas in the late Summer or early Fall of 2008. We need everyone's help to make this a reality. Thank you for your support.

Also, be sure to listen to the chant "Avalokita":

"Avalokita" - A chant of gratitude to the awakened heart of compassion in ourselves and all beings. (7 min.)

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Day #10

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

Affirmation:

I am One with everyone and everything.

I am the Universe in expression.

I am Interbeing Itself.

INTERRELATIONSHIP
You are me, and I am you.
Isn't it obvious that we "inter-are"?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.
I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

MIRRORS OF INTERDEPENDENCE
We are all mirrors for each other.
The reflection you see in me
depends very much on you.
My ability to see the Truth in you
depends very much on me.
We are of the nature of interdependence.
Yes, inter-dependence,
enter-deep-and-dance.
Indeed, let us enter deeply
the dance of all that is.
I can see myself in your eyes.
Can you see yourself in mine?

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #11

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

"When we hear a Dharma talk or study a sutra, our only job is to remain open. Usually when we hear or read something new, we just compare it to our own ideas. If it is the same, we accept it and say that it is correct. If it is not, we say it is incorrect. In either case, we learn nothing. If we read or listen with an open mind and an open heart, the rain of the Dharma will penetrate the soil of our consciousness.

'The gentle spring rain permeates the soil of my soul. A seed that has lain deeply in the earth for many years just smiles.'

"While reading or listening, don't work too hard. Be like the earth. When the rain comes, the earth only has to open herself up to the rain. Allow the rain of the Dharma to come in and penetrate the seeds that are buried deep in your consciousness. A teacher cannot give you the trruth. The truth is already in you. You only need to open yourself -- body, mind, and heart -- so that his or her teachings will penetrate your own seeds of understanding and enlightenment. If you let the words enter you, the soil and the seeds will do the rest of the work.

"A sutra or Dharma talk is not insight in and of itself. It is a means of presenting insight, using words and concepts. When you use a map to get to Paris, once you have arrived, you can put the map away and enjoy being in Paris. If you spend all your time with your map, if you get caught by words and notions, you miss the reality. The Buddha said many times, 'My teaching is like a finger pointing to the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon.'

"Sutras are essential guides for our practice, but we must read them carefully and use our intelligence and the help of a teacher and a Sangha. After reading a sutra or any spiritual text, we should feel lighter, not heavier. Buddhist teachings are meant to awaken our true self, not to add to our storehouse of knowledge. The Buddha did not want his disciples to be caught by words and notions, even his own."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

Affirmation:

I open my heart to learning from my spiritual teachers and spiritual communities. And I affirm the truth of my own wisdom and experience, nurturing the inner teacher within myself. I am both student and teacher, and beyond such roles. I am Wisdom incarnate, I am Truth expressing.

A good student is a wonderful asset to a spiritual community. And what is a good student? Well, I can share with you what a good student is not. A good student is not someone who blindly hangs onto every word that a spiritual teacher says with no room for dialogue. And neither is a good student someone who completely rejects a spiritual teacher or leaves a spiritual community just because of one or two disagreements. In both cases, even though their attitudes are completely opposite, the result is the same: no true learning takes place. Instead, a truly good student is one who opens the heart to receiving spiritual nourishment from the teacher and the community, always checking to see if it truly resonates within and is in accord with general spiritual principles. A good student knows how to dialogue and discern, to doubt and debate when necessary, with an open heart and humble attitude. A good student understands that all teachers are still students, and all students are potential teachers. And, ultimately, there is only one student and one teacher, and no student and no teacher, just vast clear spacious freedom. And We are That.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #12

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

"One autumn day, I was in a park, absorbed in the contemplation of a very small but beautiful leaf, in the shape of a heart. Its color was almost red, and it was barely hanging on the branch, nearly ready to fall down. I spent a long time with it, and I asked the leaf a lot of questions. I found out the leaf had been a mother to the tree. Usually we think that the tree is the mother and the leaves are just children, but as I looked at the leaf I saw that the leaf is also a mother to the tree. The sap that the roots take up is only water and minerals, not good enough to nourish the tree, so the tree distributes that sap to the leaves. And the leaves take the responsibility of transforming that rough sap into elaborated sap and, with the help of the sun and air, sending it back in order to nourish the tree. Therefore, the leaves are also the mother to the tree. And since the leaf is linked to the tree by a stem, the communication between them is easy to see.

"We do not have a stem linking us to our mother any more, but when we were in her womb we had a very long stem, an umbilical cord. The oxygen and the nourishment we needed came to us through that stem. Unfortunately, on the day that we call our birthday, it was cut off and we received the illusion that we were independent. That is a mistake. We continue to rely on our mother for a very long time, and we have several other mothers as well. The Earth is our Mother. We have a great many stems linking us to our Mother Earth. There is a stem linking us with the cloud. If there is no cloud, there is no water for us to drink. We are made of at least seventy percent water, and the stem between the cloud and us is really there. This is also the case with the river, the forest, the logger, and the farmer. There are hundreds of thousands of stems linking us to everything in the cosmos, and therefore we can be. Do you see the link between you and me? If you do not see it yet, look more deeply and I am sure you will see."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

Affirmation:

I honor the mothers in my life, both biological and spiritual. I honor Mother Earth and the Universe. I honor the Divine Mother of Compassion within my heart. Om Avalokita.

In some Buddhist circles, there is a saying that, if it is true that we have all lived in countless lives in the past, then chances are, all other beings have at some point been our mother. Whether this is literally true, I do not know. But I think the point of this saying is to remind us that we are all intimately inter-related with everything and everyone in the cosmos. We are all mothers to each other, we all have a part to play in the unfolding of life in the universe. Let us honor the Divine Universal Mother, honor our Mother Earth, honor our biological mothers, our spiritual mothers, and the ideal of motherhood itself, which is great compassion, great generosity and great nurture. Namo Avalokiteshvaraya Bodhisattvaya.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #13

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

Affirmation:

I am a Divine Child of the Universe, playful, loving and free.

"How can you enter paradise unless you become like a little child?"

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

Life is
the playground
of the spirit,
as well as
the schoolhouse
of the soul.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #14

May is Enlightenment Month

Dear mindful friends, Instead of a reflection, message and affirmation for today, we would like to make a special request for prayer. The kind of prayer we are referring to is not the kind where we beg some external Force to grant a request. Rather, the kind of prayer we are talking about is the kind where one mindfully aligns oneself through meditation with the deepest will of one's heart, connecting to the Great Wisdom and Compassion and Power of the Divine Heart of the Universe, and affirms the manifestation of our True Nature in practical and tangible expressions, such as health, wholeness, happiness, helpfulness and harmony, for the benefit of all beings.

For the past two weeks, Br. ChiSing has been experiencing strange physical symptoms, and it has not lessened but increased the last few days. He may need to go to the emergency room today.

Please meditate today for at least 5-20 minutes, then visualize his body filled with healing light, and affirm this prayer or something similar:

Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhasa,
Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhasa,
Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhasa.

We hold Br. ChiSing and all beings in mindfulness and "metta" (loving kindness).
We are one, and we are all held in Infinite Light, Love and Life.
We are expressions of the One True Nature,
and we are co-creators of our experience.
We affirm health, wholeness, and harmony
in our minds, bodies and relationships.
We accept the healing gifts of the Universe
so that we may be of the greatest helpfulness to all beings.
In gratitude, we affirm the power of this Truth.
In trust, we surrender to the creative process of Reality
for the benefit of all beings throughout space and time.
And so it is.

Buddham saranam gacchami,
Dharmam saranam gacchami,
Sangham saranam gacchami.

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Day #15

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

Affirmation:

Deep within me, there is a true happiness and peace that is always there as my True Nature, unshaken by the inevitable ups and downs of life.

Here are words written down —
footprints on the sand,
cloud formations.

Tomorrow
I'll be gone.

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

True happiness is not dependent on everything in life being always positive, upbeat, going my way, ecstatic, pleasurable. No, true happiness, true peace, is really there in the very midst of both sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, in gain and in loss, in stability and in chaos, in life and in death. This is equanimity. This is freedom. This is enlightenment.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #16

May is Enlightenment Month

Looking for Each Other

I have been looking for you, World Honored One,
since I was a little child.
With my first breath, I heard your call,
and began to look for you, Blessed One.
I've walked so many perilous paths,
confronted so many dangers,
endured despair, fear, hopes, and memories.
I've trekked to the farthest regions, immense and wild,
sailed the vast oceans,
traversed the highest summits, lost among the clouds.
I've lain dead, utterly alone,
on the sands of ancient deserts.
I've held in my heart so many tears of stone.

Blessed One, I've dreamed of drinking dewdrops
that sparkle with the light of far-off galaxies.
I've left footprints on celestial mountains
and screamed from the depths of Avici Hell,
    exhausted, crazed with despair
because I was so hungry, so thirsty.
For millions of lifetimes,
I've longed to see you,
but didn't know where to look.
Yet, I've always felt your presence
    with a mysterious certainty.

I know that for thousands of lifetimes,
you and I have been one,
and the distance between us is only a flash of thought.
Just yesterday while walking alone,
I saw the old path strewn with Autumn leaves,
and the brilliant moon, hanging over the gate,
suddenly appeared like the image of an old friend.
And all the stars confirmed that you were there!
All night, the rain of compassion continued to fall,
while lightning flashed through my window
and a great storm arose,
as if Earth and Sky were in battle.
Finally in me the rain stopped, the clouds parted.
The moon returned,
shining peacefully, calming Earth and Sky.
Looking into the mirror of the moon, suddenly
I saw myself,
and I saw you smiling, Blessed One.
How strange!

The moon of freedom has returned to me,
everything I thought I had lost.
From that moment on,
and in each moment that followed,
I saw that nothing had gone.
There is nothing that should be restored.
Every flower, every stone, and every leaf recognize me.
Wherever I turn, I see you smiling
the smile of no-birth and no-death.
The smile I received while looking at the mirror of the moon.
I see you sitting there, solid as Mount Meru,
calm as my own breath,
sitting as though no raging fire storm ever occurred,
sitting in complete peace and in freedom.
At last I have found you, Blessed One,
and I have found myself.
There I sit.

The deep blue sky,
the snow-capped mountains painted against the horizon,
and the shining red sun sing with joy.
You, Blessed One, are my first love.
The love that is always present, always pure, and freshly new.
And I shall never need a love that will be called "last."
You are the source of well-being flowing through
    numberless troubled lives,
the water from your spiritual stream always pure,
    as it was in the beginning.
You are the source of peace,
solidity, and inner freedom.
You are the Buddha, the Tathagata.
With my one-pointed mind
I vow to nourish your solidity and freedom in myself
so I can offer solidity and freedom to countless others,
now and forever.

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day #17

May is Enlightenment Month

Gatha for My Beloved

    My beloved,
All things pass away, and time
    is precious.
Let us cherish our togetherness
    now —
Each moment, each smile,
    each day, each embrace —
        before the sun sets
            and darkness falls.

On this sacred day of
    Buddha's Awakening,
Remember, my heart-mate,
    your bedroom is
        your zendo.
Taking care of the little details,
    you take care of Life Itself.
Every day is sesshin,
    and every dust particle swept
        is the saving of all beings.

All things pass away
    and the sun is setting.
Now is the time, my beloved,
    now is the time for loving.
Time is precious
    and darkness is falling.
Now is the time.
    Now, beloved.
        Now.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

Gatha = verse of mindfulness
zendo = meditation hall
sesshin = meditation retreat

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Day #18

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

"The more we have suffered in the past,
the stronger a healer we can become.
We can learn to transform our suffering into
the kind of insight that will help our friends and society."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

Affirmation:

I am a healer, embracing my suffering and transforming it into strength, wisdom and compassion. I radiate true joy for the benefit of all beings everywhere. I am confident, strong and resilient. In every moment, I choose over and over again what is the True, the Good and the Beautiful. I am a healer, wounded and whole.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I gave some Dharma talks at a few different spiritual centers there. At one place, during the sharing circle after my talk, a couple of persons remarked about how joyful I seemed to be and how I seemed to bring out the joy of Buddhist practice, something they hadn't seen many other speakers do before. I thanked them and I also responded that whatever joy they may see in me has been born of much suffering. True joy is not naive. True joy has faced suffering head on and still chooses the good, the true and the beautiful, in spite of it all. True joy is confident, strong and resilient. It is stronger than suffering because it is made of suffering; it is suffering embraced, transformed and made useful, for the benefit of all beings. True joy is the secret power of the wounded healer. And by the way, all true healers are wounded healers, without exception.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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Day #19

May is Enlightenment Month

"Mindfulness, when manifested, has the capacity of being aware of what is happening in the present moment. If we take one peaceful, happy step and we know that we are taking a peaceful, happy step, mindfulness is present. Mindfulness is an important agent for our transformation and healing, but our seed of mindfulness has been buried under many layers of forgetfulness and pain for a long time. We are rarely aware that we have eyes that see clearly, a heart and a liver that function well, and a non-toothache. We live in forgetfulness, looking for happiness somewhere else, ignoring and crushing the precious elements of happiness that are already in us and around us. If we breathe in and out and see that the tree is there, alive and beautiful, the seed of our mindfulness will be watered, and it will grow stronger. When we first start to practice, our mindfulness will be weak, like a fifteen-watt light bulb. But as soon as we pay attention to our breathing, it begins to grow stronger, and after practicing like that for a few weeks, it becomes as bright as a one-hundred-watt bulb. With the light of mindfulness shining, we touch many wonderful elements within and around us, and while doing so, we water the seeds of peace, joy, and happiness in us, and at the same time, we refrain from watering the seeds of unhappiness."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day #20

May is Enlightenment Month

"For us to be happy, we need to water the seed of mindfulness that is in us. Mindfulness is the seed of enlightenment, awareness, understanding, care, compassion, liberation, transformation, and healing. If we practice mindfulness, we get in touch with the refreshing and joyful aspects of life in us and around us, the things we are not able to touch when we live in forgetfulness. Mindfulness makes things like our eyes, our heart, our non-toothache, the beautiful moon, and the trees deeper and more beautiful. If we touch these wonderful things with mindfulness, they will reveal their full splendor. When we touch our pain with mindfulness, we will begin to transform it. When a baby is crying in the living room, his mother goes right away to hold him tenderly in her arms. Because mother is made of love and tenderness, when she does that, love and tenderness penetrate the baby and, in only a few minutes, the baby will probably stop crying. Mindfulness is the mother who cares for your pain every time it begins to cry.

"If you embrace a minor pain with mindfulness, it will be transformed in a few minutes. Just breathe in and out, and smile at it. But when you have a block of pain that is stronger, more time is needed. Practice sitting and walking meditation while you embrace your pain in mindfulness, and sooner or later, it will be transformed. If you have increased the quality of your mindfulness through the practice, the transformation will be quicker. When mindfulness embraces pain, it begins to penetrate and transform it, like sunshine penetrating a flower bud and helping it blossom. When mindfulness touches something beautiful, it reveals its beauty. When it touches something painful, it transforms and heals it."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day #21

May is Enlightenment Month

"The foundation of a good community is a daily life that is joyful and happy. When I was a child, families were bigger. Parents, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and children all lived together. The houses were surrounded by trees where we could hang hammocks and organize picnics. Now our families are very small, just mother, sometimes father, and maybe one or two children. When the parents have a problem, the whole family feels the effects. Even if the children go into the bathroom to try to get away, they can feel the heavy atmosphere. They may grow up with seeds of suffering and never be truly happy. Formerly, when mom and dad had problems, the children could escape by going to an aunt or uncle, or other family member. They still had someone to look up to, and the atmosphere was not so threatening.

"I think that communities of mindful living, where we can visit a network of 'aunts, uncles, and cousins,' may help us replace our former big families. Each of us needs to 'belong to' such a place, where each feature of the landscape, the sounds of the bell, and even the buildings are designed to remind us to return to awareness. I imagine that there will be beautiful practice centers where regular retreats will be organized, and individuals and families will go there to learn and practice the art of mindful living.

"The people who live there are to emanate peace and freshness, the fruits of living in awareness. They will be like beautiful trees, and the visitors will want to come and sit under their shade. Even when they cannot actually visit, they only need to think of it and smile, and they will feel themselves becoming peaceful and happy.

"We can also transform our own family or household into a community that practices harmony and awareness. Together we can practice breathing and smiling, sitting together, drinking tea together in mindfulness. If we have a bell, the bell is also a part of the community, because the bell helps us to practice. If we have a meditation cushion, the cushion is also part of the community, as are many other things that help us practice mindfulness, such as the air for breathing. If we live near a park or a riverbank, we can enjoy walking meditation there. All these efforts can help us establish a community at home. From time to time we can invite friends to join us. Practicing mindfulness is much easier with a community."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day #22

May is Enlightenment Month

Please enjoy listening to this Dharma Talk on the Buddha's teachings on "The Transformation of Suffering" —

"The Transformation of Suffering" (20 min.)
Breath of Life (Interfaith Mindfulness Fellowship)
Apri1 1, 2007 - Dallas, Texas

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Day #23

May is Enlightenment Month

"There is a Buddha in you. It's called the Buddha nature, the capacity of being aware of what is going on. There is a Buddha in every one of us, and we can allow the Buddha to walk. Even in the most difficult situation, you can walk like a Buddha. A couple of years ago, we were visiting a country in Asia, and there was one moment when we were surrounded by thousands of people. Each of them had a camera, and they were closing in. There was no path to walk, and everyone was aiming their camera at us. It was a very difficult situation in which to do walking meditation. And I said, 'Dear Buddha, I give up, you walk for me.' And right away the Buddha came, and he walked, with complete freedom. And then the crowd just made room for the Buddha to walk; no effort was made.

"If you find yourself in some difficulty, step aside, and allow the Buddha to take your place. The Buddha is in you. This works in all situations. I have tried it. It's like encountering a problem when you're using the computer. You can't get out of the situation. But then your big brother who is very skillful with computers comes along and says, 'Move over a little, I'll take over.' And as soon as he sits down, everything is all right. It's like that. When you find it difficult, withdraw and allow the Buddha to take your place. It's very easy. And for me it always works. You have to have faith in the Buddha within, and allow the Buddha to walk, and also allow the people dear to you to walk.

"When you walk, who do you walk for? You can walk to get somewhere but you can also walk as a kind of meditative offering. It's very nice to walk for your parents or for your grandparents who may not have known the practice of walking in mindfulness. Your ancestors may have spent their whole life without the chance to make peaceful, happy steps and establish themselves fully in the present moment. This is a great pity, but we do not need to repeat this situation.

"It is possible for you to walk with the feet of your mother. Poor mother, she didn't have much opportunity to walk like this. You can say, 'Mother, would you like to walk with me?' And then you walk with her, and your heart will fill with love. You free yourself and you free her at the same time, because it's true that your mother is in you, in every cell of your body. Your father is also fully present in every cell of your body. You can say, 'Dad, would you like to join me?' Then suddenly you walk with the feet of your father. It's a joy. It's very rewarding. And I assure you that it's not difficult. You don't have to fight and struggle in order to do it. Just become aware, and everything will go well.

"After you have been able to walk for your dear ones, you can walk for the people who have made your life miserable. You can walk for those who have attacked you, who have destroyed your home, your country, and your people. These people weren't happy. They didn't have enough love for themselves and for other people. They have made your life miserable, and the life of your family and your people miserable. And there will be a time when you'll be able to walk for them too. Walking like that, you become a Buddha, you become a bodhisattva filled with love, understanding, and compassion."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day #24

May is Enlightenment Month

The Three Concentrations —
#1: "Emptiness"

"There are three different kinds of concentrations. The first is emptiness, shunyata. Emptiness here is a concentration and not a philosophy. Emptiness is not an attempt to describe reality. Emptiness is offered as an instrument. And we have to handle the notion of emptiness skillfully in order not to be caught in that notion. The notion of emptiness and the insight of emptiness are two different things. Let's consider a candle. In order to light up the candle, you light a match, you need the fire. And the match is only an instrument, a means. Without the match, you cannot produce the fire. Your ultimate aim is the flame and not the match. The Buddha offers you the notion of emptiness, because he has to use notions and words to communicate.

"Skillfully, with the use of the notion of emptiness, you can produce the insight of emptiness. Once the fire manifests, it will consume, destroy the notion of emptiness. If you are skillful enough to make use of the notion of emptiness, then you have the insight of emptiness and you are free from the word 'emptiness.' I hope you can see the difference between emptiness as insight and emptiness as a notion.

"Shunyata is not a doctrine, is not an attempt to describe the truth, but is a skillful means to help you to attain the truth. It's like the finger pointing to the moon. The moon is so beautiful. The finger is not the moon. If I point my finger and say, 'Oh this is the moon!' — you don't have the moon. You are caught in the finger; you cannot see the moon. The Dharma of the Buddha is the finger, not the moon.

"The Heart Sutra says, 'Form is emptiness, emptiness is form' — what does it mean? The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara said everything is empty. And we want to ask him/her, 'Dear Bodhisattva, you say that everything is empty, but I want to ask you, empty of what?' Because empty is always empty of something. That is a skillful way to destroy the word 'emptiness' in order to get the insight of emptiness. Imagine a glass. We agree that it is empty. But it's important to ask the question that seems to be useless but is not, 'Empty of what?' Empty of tea, perhaps. Empty means empty of something. It's like consciousness, perception, feeling. To feel means to feel something. To be conscious means to be conscious of something. To be mindful means to be mindful of something. The object is there at the same time as the subject. There cannot be mind without object of mind. This is very simple, very clear. So we agree that this glass is empty of tea. But we cannot say that this glass is empty of air. It's full of air.

"When I observe a leaf, I see the leaf is full, totally full. I look at the leaf, I touch the leaf, and with the wonderful instrument called the mind, I can see that while I touch the leaf I am also touching a cloud. The cloud is present in the leaf. I know very well that if there is no cloud, there is no rain, then no poplar tree can grow. That is why when I touch the leaf, I touch non-leaf elements. One of these non-leaf elements is the cloud. I touch the cloud; I touch the rain by touching the leaf. By touching the leaf, I know that water, rain, cloud are there in the leaf. I also touch the sunshine in the leaf. I know that without the sunshine nothing can grow. I am touching the sun without getting burned. And I know that the sun is present in the leaf. If I continue my meditation I will see that I am touching the minerals in the soil, I am touching time, I am touching space, I am touching my own consciousness. The leaf is full of the cosmos — space, time, consciousness, water, soil, air, and everything, so how can we say it is empty?

"It's true that the leaf is full of everything, except one thing, and that one thing is a separate existence, a 'self.' A leaf cannot be by herself alone, a leaf has to inter-be with everything else in the cosmos. One thing has to rely on all the other things in order to manifest. One thing cannot be by herself alone. So emptiness is first of all empty of a separate self. Everything contains everything else. Looking into the leaf we see only the non-leaf elements. The Buddha is made only of non-Buddha elements. Buddhism is made only of non-Buddhism elements. And my self is made only of non-self elements."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day #25

May is Enlightenment Month

The Three Concentrations —
#2: "Signlessness"

[NOTE: If you don't quite understand this one right away, don't worry about it. Just keep it in the back burner of your consciousness, and sooner or later, with mindfulness, concentration and insight arising naturally from the practice, you will understand from your own heart. ~ Br. ChiSing]

"The second concentration is signlessness, animita. Signlessness means not being caught by appearance. It looks as though the cloud that we observe in the sky has a beginning, and we speak of the 'birth' of a cloud. It looks like a cloud may die sometime tonight and will no longer exist in the sky. We have a notion of birth and death. But with the practice of looking deeply, we can touch the nature of no-birth and no-death of the cloud. If we live our life mindfully, then we'll be able to touch the nature of signlessness. Drinking your tea, you recognize your beloved cloud is in your cup. The cloud may take the form of an ice cube. The cloud may take the form of the snow on the Pyrenees. The cloud may be in the ice cream that your child is eating. So with the wisdom of signlessness, you discover that nothing is born, nothing can die — and you have non-fear. True happiness, perfect happiness cannot be possible without non-fear. Looking deeply and touching the nature of no-birth and no-death will remove the fear in you.

"There's the element of delusion in us and there's the element of luminosity in us. Because of the element of delusion, we suffer. Because of the element of luminosity, we can become a Buddha. That is how the duality between brain and mind can be solved. Reality is expressed as brain or as consciousness. It's not true to say that the brain is born from the mind, or the mind is an emergent property of the brain — you don't have to do that. You can say that both mind and brain manifest from the ground of store consciousness, and they support each other in their manifestation. Without mind, brain cannot be possible; without brain, mind cannot manifest. Everything relies on everything else in order to manifest. Like the leaf, like the flower — a flower has to rely on non-flower elements in order to manifest. The same is true with mind. The same is true with brain."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day #26

May is Enlightenment Month

The Three Concentrations —
#3: "Aimlessness"

"The third concentration is aimlessness, apranihita. Without worry, without anxiety we are free to enjoy each moment of our lives. Not trying, not making great efforts, just being. What a joy! This seems to contradict our normal mode of operation. We are trying so hard to attain happiness, to struggle for peace. But perhaps our efforts, our struggles, our goals are the very obstacle to our attaining happiness, to our fostering peace. We have all had the experience of searching for an answer and then when we completely let go and relax the answer arises, effortlessly. That is aimlessness. We enjoy our breathing, drinking tea, smiling in mindfulness, walking in mindfulness and the insights come, the understanding shows up naturally. Aimlessness is a wonderful practice. It is so pleasant, so refreshing. I believe scientists need this practice as much as meditators, to unclench their minds, to open up to the possibilities that are beyond their imagination. Many scientific discoveries have happened on the ground of aimlessness, because when you are not set on your destination you have more opportunity to arrive at a new, unexpected insight."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day #27

May is Enlightenment Month

Adyashanti:
"Emptiness Dancing"

Starting right now, this moment, I am asking you to become the Buddha. I am asking you to take your stand, to stand absolutely firm in your intention to awaken to the Truth of your Self.

This is what the Buddha did. He didn't say, "I'll try." He didn't say, "I hope I'll find the Truth." He didn't say, "I'll do my best." He didn't say, "If not in this lifetime, then maybe next lifetime." He came to the point where he didn't look for anyone else to tell him the Truth or show him the Truth. He came to the point where he took it all on himself. He sat alone under the Bodhi Tree and vowed never to give up until the Truth be realized.

The power of this very simple, yet unshakable intention and absolute stand to be liberated in this lifetime propelled him to awaken to the simple fact that he and all beings are liberated — that all beings are freedom itself. Pure awakeness.

The Buddha was no different from you. No different. That is why he serves as a good model, because he was as you are now. So don't worship the Buddha. Don't put him on a pedestal. Don't even look up to him. Become him. Have the same intentions, take the same stand. Be the Buddha now! Put an end to all delaying, to all excuses, to all bowing down to saintly figures of the past or present. Stand up!

You are the Buddha! You are freedom itself! Stop dreaming your dream! Stop pretending that you are in bondage — stop telling yourself that lie! Stop pretending to be someone, or something! You are no one, you are no-thing! You are not this body or this mind. This body and mind exist within who and what you are. You are pure consciousness, already free, awake, and liberated. Stand up and walk out of your dream. I am here to say that you can do this.

Step out of the dream of your concepts and ideas. Step out of the dream of what you imagine enlightenment to be. Step out of the dream of who you think you are. Step out of the dream of everything you have ever known. Step out of your dream of being a deluded person. Stop telling yourself those lies and dreaming those dreams. Step out of all of that. You can do it. Nothing is holding you back. There are no requirements and no prerequisites to awaken. There is nothing to be done, nothing to think, nowhere to go.

Just stop all dreaming. Stop all doing. Stop all excuses. Just stop and be still. Effortlessly be still. Grace will do the rest.

At each and every moment from here on out, have the intention to directly experience Truth, your true liberated Self. Don't think about the Truth — directly return to your experience here, now, moment to moment. Experience Truth. Experience your Self. Dive into your experience. Your experience! Your experience of hearing, of seeing, of tasting, of breathing, of your heart beating, of your feet touching the floor, of the birds, of the wind.

     ~ Adyashanti
     www.adyashanti.org

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Day #28

May is Enlightenment Month

Gangaji:
"The Diamond In Your Pocket"

The most important question you can ever ask yourself is, Who am I? Unless this question has been truly answered, not just conventionally answered, you will still be hungry to know. No matter how you have been defined by others, well meaning or not, and no matter how you have defined yourself, no definition can bring lasting certitude.

It is not difficult to see that this initial thought, "I am somebody," leads to all kinds of strategies: to be a better somebody, a more protected somebody, a somebody with more pleasure, more comfort, and more attainment. But when this very basic thought is questioned, the mind encounters the I that is assumed to be separate from what it has been seeking. This is called self-inquiry.

This most basic question, Who am I? is the one that is most overlooked. We spend our days telling ourselves or others that we are someone important, someone unimportant, someone big, someone little, someone young, or someone old, never truly questioning this most basic assumption. Whether you say you are good or bad, ignorant or enlightened, these are all just concepts in the mind.

When the question, Who? is followed innocently, purely, all the way back to its source, there is a huge, astounding realization: there is no entity there at all! There is only the indefinable, boundless recognition of yourself as inseparable from anything else.

You are free. You are whole. You are endless. There is no bottom to you, no boundary to you. Any idea about yourself appears in you and will disappear back into you. You are awareness, and awareness is consciousness.

Drop your consciousness back into the space where there is no story, where there is no thought. If a thought arises, see that it is just passing through. It is neither wrong nor right. It is just a thought, having nothing to do with the essential truth of who you are.

The world is not as you think it is. You are not who you think you are. I am not who you think me to be. Your thoughts about the world, yourself, or me are based on perceptions. Whether they are inner or outer perceptions, they are limited.

Recognize that, and you hear the invitation into the truth of yourself, which cannot be perceived or imagined, and yet permeates everything.

When all mental activity around who you think you are is stopped, there is a crack in the authority of perception, in the structure of the mind. I invite you to enter through that crack. Come in through that opening. When you do, the mind is no longer filled with its latest self-definition. In that moment, there is only silence. And in that silence, it is possible to recognize absolute fulfillment: the truth of who you are.

The truth of who you are cannot be thought, because it is the source of all thoughts. The truth of who you are cannot be named or defined. Words like soul, light, God, truth, self, consciousness, universal intelligence, or divinity, while capable of evoking the bliss of the truth, are grossly inadequate as a description of the immensity of who you truly are.

The truth of yourself is not foreign to you. It is actually so close that you cannot believe it is you. Instead, you have taken on the conditioning of parents, cultures, and religions as the reality of yourself rather than what has always been with you — closer than your heartbeat, closer than any thought, closer than any experience.

The truth of who you are is untouched by any concept of who you are, whether ignorant or enlightened, worthless or grand. The truth of who you are is free of it all. You are already free, and all that blocks your realization of that freedom is your attachment to some thought of who you are. This thought doesn't keep you from being the truth of who you are. You already are that. It separates you from the realization of who you are. I invite you to let your attention dive into what has always been here, waiting openly for its own self-realization.

Who are you, really? Are you some image that appears in your mind? Are you some sensation that appears in your body? Are you some emotion that passes through your mind and body? Are you something that someone else has said you are, or are you the rebellion against something that someone else has said you are? These are some of the many avenues of misidentification.

Our strongest misidentification, perhaps even more than the identification with the body, is the identification with thought. We have been taught to believe "I think, therefore I am," rather than the truth, which is, "I am, therefore I think." We give thought the authority to define who we are. If I think you are separate from me, based on physical sensations or perceptions, that thought has authority as arbiter of reality.

In our minds, thoughts take the place of God, and they also take the place of the devil. A war is fought between the good thoughts and the bad thoughts. A desire arises to accumulate more good thoughts so that they can defeat the bad thoughts, so the forces of light can defeat the forces of darkness. You are conditioned to believe that if the good thoughts win, your higher self wins, and you will be at peace.

It is certainly true that the experience of life is enhanced when your mind stream has an abundance of good thoughts. It is equally true that pollution of your mind by negative or bad thoughts results in a poisoned mind and body. Yet what is overlooked is that, at the core, there is always peaceful, unmoving awareness. What you overlook is that who you truly are is already at peace. Winning and losing have nothing to do with the truth of who you are.

The balancing and re-balancing and re-forming and re-inventing of what you call "me" is only a thought, with another thought processed on top of that, and then another thought. The thoughts of who you are come from two powers of mind: the power of remembering the past and the power of projecting into the future. Thoughts of past and future create the present thought of who you are.

As thoughts arise, you have a choice. Your mind can either follow the thoughts or be still, letting them arise without touching them. My invitation is to stop: to not build thought upon thought, to not fantasize or replay old events. The choice is for the mind to be still, and in that choice is the possibility of recognizing what is always still, whether there are thoughts or no thoughts.

The moment of recognizing what cannot be thought is the moment of recognizing who you are. It is a moment of the mind's surrender to silence. The only obstacle to realizing the truth of who you are is thinking who you are. It is really that simple.

The huge suffering of personal identification is centered around what does not even exist. The story of who you are does not actually exist. Personal identification begins with a thought, a thought that gathers power because it is bowed to and practiced daily. Then other thoughts are collected to support it, to augment it, and to attempt to perfect it.

Who you are thought to be is imagined, fabricated from a string of thoughts, a mind-generated character. When who you are thought to be is examined fully, it is discovered to be nothing.

Personal identification has to do with a "me" — a body, an ego getting what it wants. Maybe the body wants more food, more shelter, or more clothing. Maybe the ego wants more power, more status, more recognition, more enlightenment. Anyone can look in their life and see how this drive for more, if it is out of balance, can keep them from recognizing the perfect joy and fulfillment of simply existing. Even without ever having more of anything, if this moment is fully met, in this moment there is more than enough of the bliss of being. But as long as there is an attachment to the story of an individual who needs to get more and keep more, the absolute fulfillment that is always present as the truth of our being will be overlooked.

In the past, it was a great rarity when someone stepped forth to speak of what is eternal, of what cannot be lost, of what is already the truth of who we are. And in general, those who have spoken of this have been misunderstood. The way that most people heard them was based on the hope: "If I get what this great being is saying, then I will have what this great being has, and it can never be taken away from me." Then all energy was directed toward trying to get something or trying to figure something out. I invite you to do neither. I invite you to simply investigate directly within yourself to see what is already immortal, already presently here, already the truth of who you are.

     ~ Gangaji
     www.gangaji.org

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Day #29

May is Enlightenment Month

Bryon Katie:
"Loving What Is"

The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want. If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, "Meow." Wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless. And yet, if you pay attention, you'll notice that you think thoughts like this dozens of times a day. "People should be kinder." "Children should be well-behaved." "My husband (or wife) should agree with me." "I should be thinner (or prettier or more successful)." These thoughts are ways of wanting reality to be different than it is. If you think that this sounds depressing, you're right. All the stress that we feel is caused by arguing with what is. People new to The Work often say to me, "But it would be disempowering to stop my argument with reality. If I simply accept reality, I'll become passive. I may even lose the desire to act." I answer them with a question: "Can you really know that that's true?" Which is more empowering? — "I wish I hadn't lost my job" or "I lost my job; what can I do now?" The Work reveals that what you think shouldn't have happened should have happened. It should have happened because it did, and no thinking in the world can change it. This doesn't mean that you condone it or approve of it. It just means that you can see things without resistance and without the confusion of your inner struggle. No one wants their children to get sick, no one wants to be in a car accident; but when these things happen, how can it be helpful to mentally argue with them? We know better than to do that, yet we do it, because we don't know how to stop. I am a lover of what is, not because I'm a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality. We can know that reality is good just as it is, because when we argue with it, we experience tension and frustration. We don't feel natural or balanced. When we stop opposing reality, action becomes simple, fluid, kind, and fearless.

I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God's. (For me, the word God means "reality". Reality is God, because it rules. Anything that's out of my control, your control, and everyone else's control, I call that God's business.) Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When I think, "You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself," I am in your business. When I'm worried about earthquakes, floods, war, or when I will die, I am in God's business. If I am mentally in your business or in God's business, the effect is separation. I noticed this early in 1986. When I mentally went into my mother's business, for example, with a thought like "My mother should understand me," I immediately experienced a feeling of loneliness. And I realized that every time in my life that I had felt hurt or lonely, I had been in someone else's business. If you are living your life and I am mentally living your life, who is here living mine? We're both over there. Being mentally in your business keeps me from being present in my own. I am separate from myself, wondering why my life doesn't work. To think that I know what's best for anyone else is to be out of my business. Even in the name of love, it is pure arrogance, and the result is tension, anxiety, and fear. Do I know what's right for myself? That is my only business. Let me work with that before I try to solve your problems for you. If you understand the three kinds of business enough to stay in you own business, it could free your life in a way that you can't even imagine. The next time you're feeling stress or discomfort, ask yourself whose business you're in mentally, and you may burst out laughing! That question can bring you back to yourself. And you may come to see that you've never really been present, that you've been mentally living in other people's business all your life. Just to notice that you're in someone else's business can bring you back to your own wonderful self. And if you practice it for a while, you may come to see that you don't have any business either and that your life runs perfectly well on its own.

A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It is not our thoughts, but the attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it's true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we've been attaching to, often for years. Most people think that they are what their thoughts tell them they are. One day I noticed that I wasn't breathing — I was being breathed. Then I also noticed, to my amazement, that I wasn't thinking — that I was actually being thought and that thinking isn't personal. Do you wake up in the morning and say to yourself, "I think I won't think today?" It's too late: You're already thinking! Thoughts just appear. They come out of nothing and go back to nothing, like clouds moving across the empty sky. They come to pass, not to stay. There is no harm in them until we attach to them as if they were true. No one has ever been able to control his thinking, although people may tell the story of how they have. I don't let go of my thoughts — I meet them with understanding. Then they let go of me. Thoughts are like the breeze or the leaves on the trees or the raindrops falling. They appear like that, and through inquiry we can make friends with them. Would you argue with a raindrop? Raindrops aren't personal, and neither are thoughts. Once a painful concept is met with understanding, the next time it appears you may find it interesting. What used to be the nightmare is now just interesting. The next time it appears, you may find it funny. The next time, you may not even notice it. This is the power of loving what is.

THE WORK:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
  3. How do you react when you think that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?
Turn the statement around. (Is that as true or
truer? Can you find another turnaround?)

     ~ Byron Katie
     www.thework.com

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Day #30

May is Enlightenment Month

Eckhart Tolle:
"The Power of Now"

Enlightenment - what is that?

A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. "Spare some change?" mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. "I have nothing to give you," said the stranger. Then he asked: "What's that you are sitting on?" "Nothing," replied the beggar. "Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember." "Ever looked inside?" asked the stranger. "No," said the beggar. "What's the point? There's nothing in there." "Have a look inside," insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.

I am that stranger who has nothing to give you and who is telling you to look inside. Not inside any box, as in the parable, but somewhere even closer: inside yourself.

"But I am not a beggar," I can hear you say.

Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.

The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form. The inability to feel this connectedness gives rise to the illusion of separation, from yourself and from the world around you. You then perceive yourself, consciously or unconsciously, as an isolated fragment. Fear arises, and conflict within and without becomes the norm.

I love the Buddha's simple definition of enlightenment as "the end of suffering." There is nothing superhuman in that, is there? Of course, as a definition, it is incomplete. It only tells you what enlightenment is not: no suffering. But what's left when there is no more suffering? The Buddha is silent on that, and his silence implies that you'll have to find out for yourself. He uses a negative definition so that the mind cannot make it into something to believe in or into a superhuman accomplishment, a goal that is impossible for you to attain. Despite this precaution, the majority of Buddhists still believe that enlightenment is for the Buddha, not for them, at least not in this lifetime.

You used the word Being. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death. However, Being is not only beyond but also deep within every form as its innermost invisible and indestructible essence. This means that it is accessible to you now as your own deepest self, your true nature. But don't seek to grasp it with your mind. Don't try to understand it. You can know it only when the mind is still. When you are present, when your attention is fully and intensely in the Now, Being can be felt, but it can never be understood mentally. To regain awareness of Being and to abide in that state of "feeling-realization" is enlightenment.

When you say Being, are you talking about God? If you are, then why don't you say it?

The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse. I use it sometimes, but I do so sparingly. By misuse, I mean that people who have never even glimpsed the realm of the sacred, the infinite vastness behind that word, use it with great conviction, as if they knew what they are talking about. Or they argue against it, as if they knew what it is that they are denying. This misuse gives rise to absurd beliefs, assertions, and egoic delusions, such as "My or our God is the only true God, and your God is false," or Nietzsche's famous statement "God is dead."

The word God has become a closed concept. The moment the word is uttered, a mental image is created, no longer, perhaps, of an old man with a white beard, but still a mental representation of someone or something outside you, and, yes, almost inevitably a male someone or something.

Neither God nor Being nor any other word can define or explain the ineffable reality behind the word, so the only important question is whether the word is a help or a hindrance in enabling you to experience That toward which it points. Does it point beyond itself to that transcendental reality, or does it lend itself too easily to becoming no more than an idea in your head that you believe in, a mental idol?

The word Being explains nothing, but nor does God. Being, however, has the advantage that it is an open concept. It does not reduce the infinite invisible to a finite entity. It is impossible to form a mental image of it. Nobody can claim exclusive possession of Being. It is your very essence, and it is immediately accessible to you as the feeling of your own presence, the realization I am that is prior to I am this or I am that. So it is only a small step from the word Being to the experience of Being.

What is the greatest obstacle to experiencing this reality?

Identification with your mind, which causes thought to become compulsive. Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don't realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal. This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from Being. It also creates a false mind-made self that casts a shadow of fear and suffering. We will look at all that in more detail later.

The philosopher Descartes believed that he had found the most fundamental truth when he made his famous statement: "I think, therefore I am." He had, in fact, given expression to the most basic error: to equate thinking with Being and identity with thinking. The compulsive thinker, which means almost everyone, lives in a state of apparent separateness, in an insanely complex world of continuous problems and conflict, a world that reflects the ever-increasing fragmentation of the mind. Enlightenment is a state of wholeness, of being "at one" and therefore at peace. At one with life in its manifested aspect, the world, as well as with your deepest self and life unmanifested - at one with Being. Enlightenment is not only the end of suffering and of continuous conflict within and without, but also the end of the dreadful enslavement to incessant thinking. What an incredible liberation this is!

Identification with your mind creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks all true relationship. It comes between you and yourself, between you and your fellow man and woman, between you and nature, between you and God. It is this screen of thought that creates the illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and a totally separate "other." You then forget the essential fact that, underneath the level of physical appearances and separate forms, you are one with all that is. By "forget," I mean that you can no longer feel this oneness as self-evident reality. You may believe it to be true, but you no longer know it to be true. A belief may be comforting. Only through your own experience, however, does it become liberating.

Thinking has become a disease. Disease happens when things get out of balance. For example, there is nothing wrong with cells dividing and multiplying in the body, but when this process continues in disregard of the total organism, cells proliferate and we have disease.

Note: The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly - you usually don't use it at all. It uses you. This is the disease. You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken you over.

I don't quite agree. It is true that I do a lot of aimless thinking, like most people, but I can still choose to use my mind to get and accomplish things, and I do that all the time.

Just because you can solve a crossword puzzle or build an atom bomb doesn't mean that you use your mind. Just as dogs love to chew bones, the mind loves to get its teeth into problems. That's why it does crossword puzzles and builds atom bombs. You have no interest in either. Let me ask you this: can you be free of your mind whenever you want to? Have you found the "off" button?

You mean stop thinking altogether? No, I can't, except maybe for a moment or two.

Then the mind is using you. You are unconsciously identified with it, so you don't even know that you are its slave. It's almost as if you were possessed without knowing it, and so you take the possessing entity to be yourself. The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity - the thinker. Knowing this enables you to observe the entity. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter - beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace - arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.

     ~ Eckhart Tolle
     www.eckharttolle.com

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Day #31

May is Enlightenment Month

Reflection:

"There is a story about a flower which is well known in the Zen circles. One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha's gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower. The name of that monk was Mahakashyapa. He was the only person who smiled, and the Buddha smiled back and said, 'I have a treasure of insight, and I have transmitted it to Mahakashyapa.' That story has been discussed by many generations of Zen students, and people continue to look for its meaning. To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled.

"That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything. When a child presents himself to you with his smile, if you are not really there — thinking about the future or the past, or preoccupied with other problems — then the child is not really there for you. The technique of being alive is to go back to yourself in order for the child to appear like a marvelous reality. Then you can see him smile and you can embrace him in your arms.

"I would like to share a poem with you, written by a friend of mine who died at the age of twenty-eight in Saigon, about thirty years ago. After he died, people found many beautiful poems he had written, and I was startled when I read this poem. It has just a few short lines, but it is very beautiful:

Standing quietly by the fence,
you smile your wondrous smile.
I am speechless, and my senses are filled
by the sounds of your beautiful song,
beginningless and endless.
I bow deeply to you.

" 'You' refers to a flower, a dahlia. That morning as he passed by a fence, he saw that little flower very deeply and, struck by the sight of it, he stopped and wrote that poem.

"I enjoy this poem very much. You might think that the poet was a mystic, because his way of looking and seeing things is very deep. But he was just an ordinary person like any one of us. I don't know how or why he was able to look and see like that, but it is exactly the way we practice mindfulness. We try to be in touch with life and look deeply as we drink our tea, walk, sit down, or arrange flowers. The secret of the success is that you are really yourself, and when you are really yourself, you can encounter life in the present moment."

     ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Message:

Affirmation:

We take refuge in the Buddha, that is,
the Truth of our Nature
which is Enlightenment itself.
We take refuge in the Dharma, that is,
the Expression of that Truth
in this world of form.
We take refuge in the Sangha, that is,
the Unity-in-Diversity
of all enlightened relationships.

Today is the last day of "Enlightenment Month." But the path of awakening is only just beginning. I encourage all of us to practice the Buddha's "Six Paramitas" of Dana (generosity), Shila (discipline), Kshanti (patience), Virya (energy), Dhyana (meditation), and Prajna (wisdom), every day of the week, especially for the next six years. This is the year of Dana Paramita, the year of generosity, of opening the heart, of learning in what ways we flow with or block the energies of the Universe in our lives, of genuinely receiving and truly giving, of growing smart about what we give, how we give and to whom we give, and of deeply trusting in the abundance that is already and always ours, here and now. This is the foundation of all the other paramitas. It starts with "dana," generosity. With the heart. Always the heart.

I hope that Buddhists and other spiritual communities across this country and around the world will adopt the month of May as "Enlightenment Month" every year from now on. And from June 1st onwards through the summer, I encourage all of us to commit to the next 108 days as an opportunity for us to practice mindfulness diligently and creatively in our daily lives, homes, work, and relationships. Every day, every week, every month, every year. This is the steady path of collective enlightenment. It goes so much against the grain of our rugged American individualism and modern "instant everything" mentality. We need to wake up from these delusions to the Truth of interbeing and diligence. A rock seems stronger than water, and yet, over time, steady drops of water can wear away the hardest of stones. And a drop of water by itself will easily evaporate, but if it joins itself with many other drops of water, it can form a mighty and powerful river, flowing to the ocean. This is the Sangha. This is the enlightened community. This is who we are, and the hope of the world.

Namo Buddhaya.
Namo Dharmaya.
Namo Sanghaya.

     ~ Br. ChiSing

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