But one time, according to the Zen tradition, he held up a lotus
flower in front of an assembly of 1,250 monks and nuns. And didn't say
a word for a very long time. And the monks and nuns kept looking at
each other, wondering "What is he doing?" Then in the far back
Mahakashyapa, a monk, smiled. And the Buddha smiled and said "Ah,
Mahakashyapa has received my teachings. He has the true eye of
wisdom. And in the Zen tradition this is called mind to mind
transmission of true wisdom. It can also be translated heart to heart
transmission. A heart to heart intuitive knowing wisdom beyond just
the kind of knowing from words and memorizing lists of different
information and facts.
This story hit home in a real way for me a few years ago when I was on
retreat at Deer Park Monastery near San Diego, California with the
monks and nuns over there. It's one of the retreat centers of Thich
Nhat Hanh in California. So about the third or fourth day of the
retreat during the morning meditation, we did our sitting and then we
did our walking and then we sat down to do chanting. Most of the
chants that particular week were in English. But that morning, the
monks decided they wanted to chant in Vietnamese. I'm Chinese and it's
a little bit of a different language. So I didn't quite understand
what they were chanting. But it didn't matter because I was just there
and I was absorbing the wonderful mindful energy.
Well, as I began to chant, suddenly… Maybe because I was so
open from several days of retreat already… My mind just opened
up and I visualized this beautiful mountainside and the sun coming up
overhead in the morning. And the Buddha, and monks, and nuns were
there chanting with their palms togther with this beautiful smile
— like they knew something. A secret. Then I just started to see
other people, lay disciples, in their white robes down in the valley
as well doing the same thing. And then the whole planet of people, of
all races and colors and religions and languages, were all doing the
same chanting with a smile… like they knew this great
And then I knew. This has got to be the Heart Sutra that they are
chanting. And as soon as I had that thought, they chanted from
Vietnamese to Sanskrit:
"GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHISVAHA"
Which means in some translations: "gone, gone, gone all the way,
everyone gone all the way to enlightenment, yahoo!" … That's a loose
We like that translation.
So you see, I didn't have to know the language to know in my heart an
intuitive knowing and awareness — that this is what they were
chanting. That chant is a wonderful chant. It is a secret. That even
though all of us are trying so hard to liberate ourselves and save the
world and whatever. Yet, it's already done in the realm of truth. And
it's not that anyone is excluded. Everyone is included.
Gone, Gone, Gone, All the Way, Everyone gone all the way to enlightenment.
See, this is in the past tense. It is so confident. It is done. Yahoo!
So… And that's such a distinctive energy to Buddhism, I think. Which
is that… it is not… it does not ask us to turn our backs on this
life experience or what our senses report or the choices we have to
make as we move through the day. It doesn't tell us that if we obey
the rules now, that we get a reward later. It tells us that the
possibility is always here.
Yes, you know and every religious tradition I believe has a gift to
offer to the world. And the gift that I think Buddhist spirituality
has to offer for all of us is just to remind us… That in our
spiritual journeys, it's not just about accumulating information,
facts, knowledge about this and that. But, rather it is an
experiential practice — of coming back to who we really are in
awareness. Our true nature of enlightenment. And from that heart of
intuitive knowingness, we know things. Wisdom arises naturally,
because it is our true nature. So, I can't even tell you how many
times during my retreats and meditations, answers will just come
naturally. And I didn't have to think too hard about it, or strive
about it… But just like this morning. I just knew, just like
you knew, what the topic was.
And then the challenge becomes trusting…
Our… Because it really… from a human perspective we are asked
to trust ourselves. And no one is more aware than I, of how many
reasons there are not to trust me. I am… There is that voice in me
that is all too willing to run through the litany of stupid choices I
have made in my life and consequences I have suffered through. So,
that fear-based resistence to simply trusting the guidance, yes?
You told me a story earlier this week about I think your first retreat
with Thich Nhat Hanh. Could you share that? It was just so
Sure, well this wasn't my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. But,
it was my first retreat at his center in France. Which is a beautiful
place near Bordeaux. It's called Plum Village. And I hope all of you
get a chance some day to go there. Well, during the retreat, around
the fourth or fifth day… It's always the fourth or fifth day, I
don't know why it is for me. You know the first day is so
wonderful. The second day is, you know, OK. And the third day I'm
miserable. And all my stuff is coming up. And then the fourth day it
just transforms. And then the fifth day I can just enjoy.
Well, we had been practicing—sitting meditation, walking
meditation, listening meditation, speaking mindfully
meditation—but the one I didn't like was the eating
meditation. You had to sit there and chew fifty times the food, and,
like, not talk to anybody and not read anything: just eat. Just really
eat and enjoy it. That was very difficult for me because I grew up
watching TV and cartoons as a kid, you know, after school. My parents
were still working late hours. And that's what I was used to. So this
was a very tough practice for me. But I still did it because I
believed in the teacher and the teachings. I had experienced enough
from previous retreats that I knew this was real and powerful.
So here I was at the lunch table, and I'm just eating my tofu,
broccoli and rice. Chewing, chewing, chewing. And then I looked up for
the first time. And I saw all of these beautiful people chewing their
food so peacefully. And I had the sense of being nourished by their
peaceful mindful eating practice. And then I looked outside and saw
the tree swaying in the wind, and the sunlight streaming through. And
I heard the children laughing outside, as they were playing with their
parents, eating outside. And in that moment I had that intuitive heart
knowing. And it was as if my heart just expanded and expanded until it
was the whole universe. Tears came down my eyes. And I knew in that
moment that everything is eating meditation.
Or at least that's how I interpreted that experience. That just as I
am being nourished by this food, later on I'll be going to the
bathroom and nourishing micro-organisms. And just as the tree was
giving oxygen, I was also giving the tree carbon dioxide. And as my
friends around the table were feeding me with their mindful presence,
hopefully I was also feeding them with my mindful presence. And as the
children, they were feeding the adults with their playful energy and
the adults were feeding the children with their mindful stability and
safety. Everything in the universe is inter-nourishment.
This is the same insight that Jesus gave us in communion. Everything
is offering our life to one another. That is true communion. It is the
whole universe: the whole universe is Eucharist, the whole universe is
eating meditation, the whole universe is the inter-being of feeding
one another. And so that was just one of many experiences I've had
just from the meditation.
And that's the point, isn't it? I mean that's the counter energy to
spiritual ignorance: it's mindfulness—it's spiritual presence as
you eat, as you walk down the street, as you go to the bathroom, as
you drive through, you know, traffic… doing it mindfully and
being aware of the spiritual energies that are working beneath
it. It's such a beautiful story.