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,
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
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
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
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
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
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,
[ singing: ]
[ bell… bell… bell… ]
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.
I feel safe.
I enjoy going back to my garden.