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Gratitude and Everything Else (25 min.)

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"Gratitude and Everything Else"
Transcript of a talk delivered by Br. ChiSing
Breath of Life (Interfaith Mindfulness Fellowship)
May 20, 2007 (Buddha's Birthday) - Dallas, Texas

Good evening, dear friends. This past few months we've been studying the six paramitas of Bodhisattvas: the six practices of awakening beings that help us to develop skillful capacities for radiating our true nature for the benefit of all beings. Dana paramita, generosity; shila paramita, discipline; kshanti paramita, patience; virya paramita, energy; dhyana paramita, meditation; and prajna paramita, wisdom.

I probably shared as many stories as I possibly could and I felt, at first this morning, that I have nothing more to share. All of that I have to share I've shared already. And tonight's topic is free, and so whatever comes up…

So, this morning when I meditated, afterwards I decided to pick my little soul cards that I have on my altar. And the one I picked this morning was of this beautiful woman, just radiating up into the sky, and the word was "gratitude." So as I sat with that word and that picture of gratitude, the topic of this evening came very clearly and naturally. And that's what happens when we practice mindfulness and meditation. We don't have to try so hard to figure everything out. We let our true nature do the work, effortlessly, as we allow our rational ego mind and chatter mind to just relax enough to let our true nature shine through.

We don't want to destroy our ego or destroy our rational mind or destroy or annihilate anything. But we have to realize who's the boss. Because, if our ego, if our rational mind, our small separate self identity thinks that it's boss, that's the cause of most of our suffering in the world. But we can embrace that aspect of ourselves, because those are necessary aspects in this world of form, so we can operate in this world of form. But we can do it in a way that we realize who is the true master.

So, we don't annihilate anything in our practice. We don't fight against the wandering mind. We include it and we relax it enough that the true strength of who we really are—our vast nature—shines through. And our priorities are shifted, and we know who is really the master.

Gratitude…

In America as this practice of metta meditation was being taught—metta meaning loving kindness, also the word can be maitri, which is Sanskrit; metta is Pali (they're related languages)—so loving kindness meditation has four or five parts.

The first part is to love yourself, to wish yourself well, to visualize yourself well, just giving yourself love. "May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be healthy. May I be loved," things like that. And we meditate with this metta meditation until we really feel it deeply, this love for ourselves.

And then when we're strong in that love we then think of someone easy for us to send love to, and we say, "May you be happy," and we visualize that person, we see them happy, we send them love from our heart, light from our heart.

And then when we feel very solid in this love, we expand it to someone neutral. Maybe someone you see everyday at the bus stop or passing by work or school. You know, "May that bus driver be happy. May she be well. May she have good health," and just really feel it.

And then, if you're strong in that, you can go to someone a little bit difficult to love. "May you be happy. May you be peaceful."

And then eventually you're able to radiate loving kindness to all beings. "May all beings be well, happy, peaceful, healthy, free."

But the interesting thing is, as the Asian meditation teachers were teaching this in America and in the Western countries, the very first step, which should be the most easy, was one of the hardest: to love yourself. It was so difficult for many Westerners. It shocked many of the Asian teachers, why this would be so. But we in the West have a different psychological history and upbringing and social history. And there's a lot of self-judgment, self-doubt, self-criticism, that isn't necessarily as strong in other cultures.

So, we need to adapt the Buddha's teachings. And as I was meditating on this, what I came up with was the practice, before we send our self-love, then is the practice of gratitude; to think of all the ways we already are loved, by others, by the universe. So then we receive that love, we think of that love, we visualize that love. Maybe, even just one person in our life that has truly loved us. We visualize that, we receive it deeply. We think about it. We let it really seep in. Maybe we can then think about trees, always giving us oxygen. The blue sky. The smile of a little baby. Just anything that we can receive as love. This is the practice of gratitude.

And so, if it is difficult for us to love ourselves, and thus to love others, then might we first practice the practice of gratitude. Which is just simply to recognize all the ways we are supported, all the ways that we are loved, all the ways that we are affirmed and held by the universe. And if we can truly feel that it then becomes much easier for us to then give that to ourselves, as well, and then others, and to all the universe.

You know, Jesus once said, "Unless you become like a little child you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)

A lot of conservative people might have interpreted this to mean unless you become naive and simplistic and just believe what we tell you, you can't enter into heaven when you die.

But I, reading this scripture from the point of view of mindfulness practice, from my true nature reading it, the interpretation that comes very clearly for me is: unless we become childlike in our simplicity and surrender to the receptivity of all the wonders of the universe, we cannot enter into a heavenly life here on earth. A life that is free. A life that recognizes heaven on earth. You don't have to wait till you die to enter heaven.

Unless you become like a little child… and we don't mean to say that you have to become childish, but childlike: this open receptivity. Children find it very easy to be grateful, to be open to the wonders and surprises of life. So let us get in touch with our inner child, once again.

You know, as I was a child I used to go out in the fields and walk among the grass and trees and the creek behind our house. And I just loved it. And I would just walk slowly, prayerfully. And as the wind would blow, I remember just, even though I was an eight-year-old child, I would just silently allow the wind to just caress my face, and feel so grateful to the divine spirit, for life.

I didn't realize I was practicing walking meditation. But that's what I was doing, just so purely and naturally, as a child. Effortlessly. So, there is a key to our enlightenment in this scripture: unless you become like a little child…

The Buddha, as he was about to awaken, in his meditations sitting against the Bodhi tree, he was trying so hard to meditate. And he even, for a few years, starved himself, thinking that denying the body—making the body suffer—would help his spirit to awaken to enlightenment. But he realized, "That's not the way."

So, of course, in his earlier life, he was just indulging in everything. You know: riches, pleasures; all the food, all the girls he wanted; whatever he needed. He was the prince, so he could have whatever he wanted. But that didn't satisfy him, and that did not bring him an answer to the problems of life and how to awaken to who we really are.

So, he found out in his own experience, the two extremes are not helpful; but the Middle Way is the way. And what is this "Middle Way," between the two extremes of completely indulging in every pleasure possible and completely hating and denying our body? What is the "Middle Way?"

Well, as he was about to awaken, he remembered a memory from his childhood. As about, I guess he was maybe around eight years old. Just, it was a hot day, so he left the ceremonies of all the priests that were chanting for the harvest, and he left his father and all of the different royalty. And he just went under this rose apple tree. And just sat there, closed his eyes, and just relaxed. And enjoyed the cool shade of the tree. And just looked and observed everything that was happening around him, breathing in and breathing out.

And the Buddha realized—he remembered that he felt such peace and insight, even for just a glimpse, as a child, meditating like that. And so he thought, "Perhaps this is the way."

So, he let go of striving so hard and denying his body, and just relaxed, got in touch with his inner child. And just breathed in that moment. And he said that very evening, and in the morning as he saw the morning star rise in the dawn sky, he became enlightened.

I once went on a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and many others, and afterwards at that retreat I met a friend named Elizabeth and I've shared this story with you before. And, I'd shared with you also the story of my bike accident with her when I visited her in Nashville, Tennessee. Well, my hand was somewhat damaged and hurt. Not irreparably so, but it was in a lot of pain.

And so, in Nashville, Tennessee there's this place called the Upper Room. Which is where the United Methodists have their national prayer headquarters, where they produce a lot of their prayer and spiritual literature. So, I always wanted to visit them. And so, Elizabeth took me there and we went inside. It was about four thirty and they close at about five o'clock. And we were just looking at the bookstore and the gift shop, and just admiring the grounds. There was a beautiful fountain, and flowers and a garden.

And so, there was one person behind the desk. And so we went up to her and we told her about what happened with my accident, and, "I'm just visiting my friend here in Nashville, and I'm only staying for one day and I just wanted to ask if there were any prayer counselors there that could just pray with me about me hand. I've always wanted to, like, come here and experience prayer with them."

And so, she gave a little call upstairs and then she hung up the phone and said, "Well, it's almost closing time and everyone's getting ready to leave now. Maybe you could come back tomorrow."

And I said, "Well, I won't be back tomorrow, because I'm leaving tomorrow, from Nashville. I'm just visiting for today." And so, I said, "Maybe could you just see if one person might be able to just do a brief one-minute prayer? It'd be so lovely."

And so she called and then she hung up the phone and said, "Well, everyone's already gone now for the day. Um, I'm really sorry."

And then I said, "Well… well, maybe you could pray for me. Um, you know, since I'm here already and it's such a lovely place and I can just feel the beautiful spiritual energy here. You know, just something simple. You could just pray with me and that'd be so lovely."

And then she says, "Well, I'm not a trained prayer counselor."

And I said, "Well, that doesn't matter. You know, you're a Christian, right? And you know how to pray."

And she said, "I'm sorry. We're closing now."

Well, my friend Elizabeth, who was with me, became so red in her face. She was so angry that she just grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the building, into the garden area by the fountain and just sat me down and said, "ChiSing, I'm going to pray for you."

And so she did. And it was one of the most beautiful prayers of my life. Not only her words, but the sound of the water fountain, and the little bees that were flying from flower to flower, and the butterflies that were flying around, and everything; the sunshine, the grass, everything was alive with prayer—alive with vibrant spiritual energy and openness of heart.

And from that day forward I vowed that if I ever became a minister I would never, ever allow such a thing to happen in my congregation. Where people expect only the trained ministers or prayer counselors to pray for you… That is not a true church. Every single member of a church or sangha or temple should feel that they are empowered to share loving kindness with others through prayer, through being with each other, through meditation or whatever.

If a church continues to produce people who are co-dependant on their spiritual leaders, it is not a true church. A true church, a true sangha, a true temple, a true spiritual community is one in which spiritual leaders are spiritual facilitators, and the members are the ministers. And the members are the ones who take care of each other, who pray for each other, who meditate with each other, who radiate loving kindness to one another and all beings.

If we were truly in touch with our inner child we would never need to only go to a trained counselor or minister. We would know that we ourselves have the capacity to give a hug, like a little child. Give a hug. If someone scrapes their knee, give a little kiss, a little touch. Children know they have the capacity to care and to love, without feeling, like, inadequate or like they're not quite adequate.

What is this about our society that makes us grow up feeling inadequate? Growing up feeling this self-deprecation? Making it so difficult for us to love ourselves? Through our practice of mindfulness—the practice of getting in touch with our true divine child: the Buddha Baby within us, within all beings—we can transform that, and love unabashedly.

Love like Thich Nhat Hanh, who, a few years ago, I remember, was doing walking meditation in the fields by the plum trees in France. And the children were with him, walking with him. And we all sat down in the grass, as Thich Nhat Hanh just playfully talked with the little children, while the adults were just resting under the shade of the trees.

And I remember this joy filling my heart. Because I remember, for so many years, as I was growing up in the Christian church, I always thought it would be so wonderful if only I'd lived during the time of Jesus. I could have been one of those little children that sat on his lap. If only I could have seen how he was with them.

And yet, here I was, with this truly spiritual, realized, enlightened being, playing with the children, talking with the children, leading all of us in walking meditation and sitting meditation out in the fields. And I realized, I don't have to wish I could have been born two thousand years ago or wish that I would be living in the lifetime of some great master. Right here, right now… here is Buddha: with my friends, with the trees, with this beautiful teacher.

Could it be really much different, the way Jesus was with the children, the way this spiritual teacher is with the children, with all of us? Is it really any different, the way Shaun and Kara care for their little baby, Hayden? Is it really that different from the way all of us take care of each other when we come together; support each other through silence, and through words, and through actions? Is it really that different?

We are Jesus, to one another.

We are Buddha, to each other.

We are the hope of the world.

We don't have to wait for the second coming of Christ. We are it. We don't have to wait for Maitreya Buddha, the future Buddha of love. When we open our hearts with love, we are the Buddha Maitreya.

Let us not cling to our dogmas and ideas and notions and concepts of truth. Because if we do we will be like, in the Buddha's teachings, the father who left his home and left his child there for a few hours, to go to the market, and when he came back these thieves had broken into the house, burned the house down. He didn't realize his son had run away into the nearby forest to protect himself.

So the father was in great despair. He thought he'd lost his child. And he saw some ashes, and he collected them and put them in a bag, thinking those were the ashes of his child. And he mourned day and night, day and night.

And the one day when the child felt safe to come back, he knocked on the door and said, "Father, it's your son. Let me in, let me in."

And the father, so full of his grief, he thought this was just some children making fun of him—making fun of his grief. And he said, "Go away! My son is dead. Can't you see I'm grieving? How dare you make fun of me?"

And the son just kept saying, "Father! Father, it's me. Open the door. Please, let me in."

And the father was holding onto his notion and his belief of what the truth was. He so strongly held that bag of ashes and cried and cried and would not open the door. And finally the son left. And the father and son lost to each other forever, because the father was clinging so hard to his concept of truth.

So, the Buddha invites us to awaken, to be enlightened—by letting go, and being open enough, like a child. Fresh truth, moment to moment, here and now.

And with that openness of heart, awakening to truth, there is only gratitude.

Thank you…

Transcribed by Chelsea German

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