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The Miracles of Mindfulness (24 min.)

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"The Miracles of Mindfulness"
Transcript of a talk delivered by Br. ChiSing
Community Unitarian Universalist Church
March 25, 2007 - Plano, Texas

A friend of mine once told me a joke about a Unitarian Universalist dying and suddenly finding himself in the heavenly realms; much to his surprise. But since he was Unitarian Universalist, he was open; he was open to this new experience; and at the pearly gates St. Peter greeted him, as well as Quan Yin bodhisattva, and they both led him down through the heavenly realm and through the beautiful temple; and there were different rooms that they were going by and in one room they saw the Buddhists chanting in one room and very happily chanting joyful loving kindness to all beings. And they passed through this other room and there were these Jews chanting, "Shema Israel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad!" just really enjoying the oneness of the Divine in all. And they passed by this other room where these Sufis were chanting, "La ilaha-il Allah, Muhammadan Rasul Allah," and just enjoying the joy of revelation of oneness and of expression of that oneness. And then they passed by this room with Unitarian Universalists having a good time discussing a theological point of view… with lots of questions. And then Quan Yin and Saint Peter said, "Shhh, we need to tiptoe past this room." And so they tiptoed past this one room where these very somber people with long faces were in there, and then they passed by there very quietly. And this man asked his two guides, "Why did we have to pass by that room so quietly and tiptoe? Who were those people in that room?" And St. Peter and Quan Yin said "Well, those are the fundamentalists, but they don't know the rest of us are up here also yet."

I'm so happy to be here at a Unitarian Universalist church where all are welcome and all are celebrated and no one has to be ashamed or shy to celebrate our presence here today. In my own life and practice I have discovered many different things. I grew up Southern Baptist, and now I am Buddhist. So maybe some day I'll write a book called "From Baptist to Buddhist and Beyond." But growing up Southern Baptist, I learned a lot about theological practice, the practice of the study of scripture and of theology. Of course in a much more conservative atmosphere; but nonetheless I learned a lot. And since I grew up Chinese Southern Baptist, by the time I was 12 years old we were already reading the book of Revelation, while my non-Chinese Southern Baptist friends were still studying about Noah and the ark. We were learning about pre-millennial, post-millennial, a-millennial theories on the book of Revelation. It was an interesting way of growing up. But as I began to go to college, I encountered the Charismatic Christians, and they taught me about devotional practice of spirituality. Really opening up the heart, opening up to expressing with the body, and just really being joyful in worship. Then as I left college and began to go to California from Texas, and encountered the Liberal Christians and the Liberal Progressives and the Unitarian Universalists, I learned a lot about social engagement, social justice practice in spirituality. The importance of not just simply studying about and thinking about our theology, and not just expressing with our heart through the arts and through music and worship; but really allowing our mind and heart to express through our actions, through our body, in the healing of our world, our planet, all beings.

Dew on a Leaf Now in engaging with theological practice and devotional practice and social practice, I noticed that in social practice some of my friends sometimes became very angry and frustrated, and they would try to get lots of petitions signed and do protests and try to change things; but sometimes it felt like it just wasn't going anywhere, and they were hitting a wall. So many of them seemed to burn out easily and get very discouraged. Now with the theological practice, obviously it can be quite dry, and just intellectual; and it doesn't reach into the heart. And with devotional practice, sometimes that can get a bit sappy and sentimental, and very emotional without much substance. And of course in social practice the tendency to burn out can occur.

So I began to do a spiritual search once again, and I'd like to show a little something here, and I'd like you to, ah, read this out loud for me. 1-2-3… "Peace is nowhere." Peace is nowhere; OK, nowhere. Peace is nowhere. … Now I'd like everyone to read this sentence… "Peace is now here." All right, I'm going to hold both of them up at the same time. Now, are the letters exactly the same? "Yes." And are the sequence of the letters exactly the same? "Yes." Yes, then what's the difference between peace is nowhere and peace is now here? "Space." It's the difference of a space, and that's what I'd like to talk about today. The space of a transformational practice called meditation, the contemplative dimension of our spiritual practice. This is what can keep our theological practice from becoming just simply dry, and keep our devotional practice from simply being sentimental and sappy, and can keep our social justice practice from burning us out. It is the ground of practice, the transformational practice of renewing our consciousness through meditation, through the contemplative dimension of life.

There's a story that my teacher likes to tell sometimes about this man who went to the mental hospital and the Doctor was trying to treat him. He thought he was a kernel of corn; so every time he saw a chicken, he would run away in fear. So they brought him to the hospital to treat him. And so the Doctor said to him, "Sir, you are not a kernel of corn, you are a human being. I'd like you to write this out a thousand times a day and say it to yourself: I am a human being, I am not a kernel of corn, I am a human being, I am not a kernel of corn, one thousand times." So he went away for a few days and weeks; and the Doctor inquired with the nurse, "How is he doing?" And she said, "Oh Doctor, he's doing very well, he's very diligent in his homework assignment of writing the affirmations and saying them out loud, 'I am a human being, I am not a kernel of corn.'" So the man asked to see the patient, and he asked the patient, "How are you doing, Sir?". And he says, "Doctor I am doing so well, thank you very much for helping me." And the Doctor asked him, "So, are you a kernel of corn, or are you a human being?" And the patient said, "Oh, Doctor, I am a human being, I am not a kernel of corn, thank you." And the Doctor said "Oh wonderful! You are doing very well. So maybe in a couple of days we can release you." And at that point a chicken came by (now, this is in Vietnam, so…), a chicken came by and the man ran out of the office so fast the Doctor didn't know what to do; and he couldn't catch him and the nurse ran after him. Finally they brought him back to the office, and the Doctor was very disappointed. And he said, "Sir, I thought you told me that you are a human being and not a kernel of corn." And the patient said, "Yes, Doctor, that's true." And the Doctor said, "Well, then, why did you run away when the chicken came by?" And the patient said, "Well, Doctor, I know I am [not] a kernel of corn; but I'm not sure the chicken knows."

I love this story because it's an illustration of what the Buddhists call "suchness". That man did not know the suchness of who he really was; nor did he know the suchness of a kernel of corn or a chicken for that matter. That is our practice through meditation, to get in touch with our deepest true nature; that which is beyond simply the body, simply our thoughts and emotions, our ideas about ourselves and our life, but the reality that is deep within and all around us. We are vast. We contain multitudes. We are not limited by our perception of the boundaries of this skin. Our life is the whole Universe. And it is not just something that we can intellectually just say out loud and suddenly we realize it. It takes a practice of meditation and other similar spiritual practices that enable us to really get in touch with that reality deeply, so that we can not only just say it with words, but really experience and mean it. In reality, we are vast; we contain multitudes. Our true nature is the entire Universe, not limited by the boundaries of our skin.

Have any of you ever flown on an airplane? Raise your hand… Well, most of us. Have you ever been to a city where you were just connecting in that city, but you weren't necessarily going to be visiting that city? Raise your hand… So you all know what I am talking about. Well, going to an airport terminal, I could be going there and I could land in the airport terminal and come out, and go into the waiting area for my next connecting flight. Let's say, recently, for instance, I went to Hong Kong. And if I had never really been to Hong Kong, but I was just connecting through Hong Kong or say, Bankok, Thailand or something, I could theoretically and literally say I had been to Hong Kong; I could tell all my friends, "I have been to Hong Kong." But in reality, on a deeper level, it's not true. I've only been to the airport terminal of Hong Kong. But unless I leave the airport terminal and spend a few days or weeks in Hong Kong smelling the air, listening to the sounds, eating the food, seeing the different places in Hong Kong, and getting to know the people, the culture, the language, only then can I really say that I have been to Hong Kong.

Most of us, whether Christian or Buddhist or Unitarian Universalist, most of us, sometimes we say that we understand spirituality. We know what it is to be Unitarian Universalist or Christian or Buddhist or whatever. But do we really? Or have we simply just gone to the airport terminal of spirituality and dabbled a little bit, you know? Well, I've seen the spiritual dimension of life. There are little Starbucks in one corner and magazine stands in another, and people are walking around really quickly with luggage; but is that really, truly the deepest aspect of the spiritual dimension of life?

Only through practice can we break through those gates and doors and go into the city, into the realm of the here and now, into all the wonders and miracles of life, all of the deep wisdom of the Unitarian Universalist tradition and other traditions.

What helped me in my own life to break through from the airport terminal thinking into the reality itself was to encounter a teacher, a wonderful teacher who embodied and practiced this. His name was Thich Nhat Hanh; and I went to a week-long retreat with some friends, and I remember at the end of that five day retreat how clear my mind felt. And I remember also, during the middle of that retreat, suddenly during one of the talks something inside my heart broke open and I just began to cry and weep for over fifteen minutes… I couldn't stop. It was as if something in me was touched deeply for the first time, and I was able to release so much inside of me.

At another retreat a couple of years later when I finally was able to go directly to his center in France at Plum Village, near Bordeaux, during that week retreat, around the fourth day while we were practicing eating meditation… Now, mind you there are different kinds of mindfulness practice; not just sitting meditation, but also walking meditation, listening meditation, speaking mindfully meditation, drinking tea meditation, and eating meditation at lunch. We also have a practice called hugging meditation where we hug someone and hold them for three breaths. The first breath to remember the miracle of ourself, the second breath to realize the miracle of the other person, and the third breath to realize the miracle of being together.

So we were doing all these different practices, and I have to say the one I hated the most was eating meditation. Eating really slowly, and silently, not talking to the people around me; it just drove me crazy because I grew up with parents that had to work very hard to get to where we are today; who had immigrated from Hong Kong and China; and so they were working very hard. So after school, my brother and I would just watch TV, and we would make ourselves a TV dinner, and watch TV while we at dinner. So I was very used to that habit of just not paying attention to what I was eating, but just watching or doing something else while eating.

So this was really difficult; I didn't like it at all. For two years I still practiced it whenever I was at retreats, but I didn't like it. Well, on the fourth day of the retreat I just was eating my tofu broccoli and rice mindfully, smelling it and tasting the texture and the tastes; and feeling it going down my throat, feeling my stomach digesting it; imagining how it was just kind of going through my whole body and nourishing me. And then I just stopped; I put my fork down and I looked at the people around me at my table; and they were eating so mindfully and peacefully, and joyfully. And just observing them being so happy eating their food began to make me feel happy. And then I saw, I looked outside, and the sun was shining through the trees, the wind was blowing and I could hear the leaves rustling from the wind and the sunlight streaming through the leaves. And I just felt very happy, just seeing the tree. And then I heard the sounds of the children outside playing with their parents that were eating, not silently, but that's OK; they were practicing mindful playing, playfulness, and the adults inside were practicing mindful mindfulness in silence.

And in that moment, something in my heart broke open, and it was as if, like this ah, ah these shackles just released and my heart just expanded. And it was almost like I just, I wasn't really bound by this skin any more. I was just with everything, and I began to have tears come down my eyes, because I realized that everything in the whole Universe is eating meditation; that I am being nourished all the time by the Universe, and that I am nourishing the Universe. We are all inter-nourishing each other. Just like I was eating this food and being nourished by it, later on I would be going to the bathroom and nourishing micro-organisms. And just like I was being nourished by the oxygen produced by that tree outside, I was nourishing that tree with my carbon dioxide. And just as the children were nourishing me with their playful joy, the adults as I were nourishing them with being safe around us, because we were so mindful and so kind. Everything in the Universe is nourishment, inter-nourishment. And in that moment I realized, not just intellectually and theoretically, because I had heard about the word interbeing before, but that word became my reality in my heart in that moment.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is not some esoteric, strange, advanced practice that only a few people in the world can do. Mindfulness is to stop, to center, to breathe, to be aware of the miracle of life already present within and around us. Dorayne sang about this experience of opening love letters all around us. But those love letters in the Universe remain unopened until we practice awareness, presence, mindfulness; practicing the opening of our heart. And that is when those love letters are opened and received deeply, and shared radiantly to such a degree that even our own lives become a love letter to the Universe.

I'd like to conclude with just a minute or two of meditation with all of you:

Breathing in and breathing out… [ pause ]

When we open ourselves to the Universe, to life,
    there are miracles waiting for us to discover.
These are not necessarily big, extraordinary miracles; although they can be that;
    they are the miracles of the ordinary, here and now.
So breathing in and breathing out, just being aware of the breath.
    Thankful for the breath.
And whenever our mind wanders too much we can just say a word with our breath,
    "Here" on the in-breath, "Now" on the out-breath,
        Here… Now…

[ singing: ]
Breathing in…
    I go back to the garden within my heart.

There are beautiful trees within my garden.
There are clear streams of water,
    there are birds, sunshine, and fresh air.

Breathing out…
    I feel safe.

I enjoy going back to my garden.

[ bell… bell… bell… ]

Thank you…

Transcribed by Glenda Gill

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