The retreat theme that I just came back from was actually "Mindfulness, Fearlessness, and Togetherness." But on the altar was in large letters, and calligraphy was, "Be still and know," which of course, for those of us from the Western spiritual traditions, we know that it comes from the Bible and the Psalms. Be still and know.
And this verse actually outlines the whole of Buddhist meditation practice. The still is the aspect of meditation which is called samatha, stopping, calming, concentrating, and one method that is helpful for beginners to help them stop, to calm, to concentrate, to focus, is to count the breath. Breathing in one, breathing out one. Two, two. Three, three, until 10, and then start again at one, one, two, two. Or you can just do breathing in one and then out two and then out, or breathing in one out, breathing in two out.
And if you start to find yourself at 11 and 12, you know that you're getting lost in doing the counting is just an automatic rather than being completely conscious. So when you notice that, you just start again at one, and if you are at five and then you start thinking about the recipe for tomorrow's lunch, then you realize, oh, I don't know what breath I am on. You come back to one again. There is no judgment. Just come back to one. This is called samatha.
And the second aspect of meditation is called Vipassana, which means to look deeply, to take the concentration and look deeply into the nature of reality. We start off with things that are easy, such as looking deeply into the nature of this body, this form, looking deeply into our organs and all the different parts that make up our body, our feelings, our sensations on our skin, our feelings from our emotions, and then our mental states and thoughts and the way our mind works, and the reality of the whole universe really, of the teachings of spiritual teachers and how it relates to the truth of reality as it is.
Both of these help us to let go of all that obstructs us from just naturally radiantly being who we already are, which is wisdom, which is insight, which is understanding, which is truth. That is one angle of it of course. Another one would be we are love. We are compassion. We are joy. We are forgiveness. And in fact in Buddhism, these two aspects of our awakened nature are expressed as such, wisdom and compassion. They never are separate. There is no true wisdom without compassion and love. There is no true love and compassion without understanding and wisdom. So be still and know. These still, calm, concentrate, focus. Be present here and now through the breath or through whatever works for you. Sometimes people like to use the breath as well as a mantra or a phrase or word, counting the breath.
Other people are more visual, so they might do visualization, but whatever it is, the point is to become really here and really now rather than diffused, because we can bring our light into concentration, like the difference between a weak light bulb and a laser where all the light beams are going the same direction. And because of that concentration, that samatha, we can now look deeply and truly allow insight to awaken naturally, insight into the nature of the universe, into the nature of our suffering, into the nature of our true happiness.
I am wearing white today, which is the original color of lay disciples of the Buddha, and then the saffron yellow-ish orang-ish color was worn by the monastic disciples of the Buddha originally. And I never was taught this by anyone, but this is what came to me in meditation a couple of years ago out of the blue. I can't really prove this, but I think it is true. It seems very true to me, that this in a way expresses the balance of yin and yang, masculine and feminine, or whatever you want to call it. It is like the color of the moon, very soft, very gentle, and then the soft yellow orange is the color of the sun, very vibrant, powerful, and both the monastic and lay disciples are important to working together for global awakening.
Later as Buddhism went into other parts of Asia, like China, sometimes the colors have changed, and yet there is still that balance. For instance, in Vietnam, in some of the traditions, there is the color brown, which is like the earth. There is also the color blue, kind of like blue-gray, which is the color of the sky, so there is that balance of earth, which is usually considered the yin energy, and in the sky, which is the yang energy. So that balance—you might want to call it masculine and feminine balance of energy or whatever.
So even though there are different methods, yet the reason behind this the same. So even though the colors may be different today than before, 2,600 years ago, yet there is something that is the same, that is conveying the same truth or balance of energy. Be still and know. You can even use that as your mantra. Breathing in be still. Breathing out know.
During the second day of the retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh shared a story about his time in Korea, where thousands and thousands of people were trying to touch him and take pictures of him while he was trying to lead a walking meditation outside in public. As soon as he was going to start walking, all the crowds just came in, and reporters were flashing their cameras, and it was not a very mindful atmosphere. Maybe it was similar to like someone who hears the ticking of the clock—if it drove you little bit crazy, just multiply that by 100 with flashing cameras. So Thich Nhat Hanh felt like this is just impossible, and he was feeling frustrated and exasperated.
So he just closed his eyes and took a deep breath and said, "Okay. Buddha, you have to walk for me. And in just a few seconds, he felt the energy of the universe, of his true nature, just expressing through his body and mind, and he took the first step, and the crowds just naturally and effortlessly parted, kind of like Moses and the Red Sea. And he just walked, and it was a wonderful walk, and very peaceful, very solid, very joyful, very mindful. And so he wrote this gatha, or poem, called "Breathing and Walking" in Vietnamese. So this is my English translation based on other people helping me with the translation. And when I heard it from his mouth, it just hit me in my heart, and I felt just this wonderful feeling of truth.
(Sings) Let the Buddha breathe. Let the Buddha walk. I don't have to breathe. I don't have to walk. The Buddha is breathing. The Buddha is walking. I enjoy the breathing. I enjoy the walking. Buddha is the breathing. Buddha is the walking. I am the breathing. I am the walking. There is just the breathing. There is just the walking. There is no breather. There is no walker. Peace and joy while breathing. Peace and joy while walking. Peace and joy the breathing. Peace and joy the walking. Breathing, walking. Breathing, walking.
So there is just singing. There is no singer, just singing. There is no thinker, just thinking. There is no feeler, just feeling. There is no sufferer, just suffering. There is no awakener, just awakening. No breather, just breathing. No walker, just walking. Just everything flowing, being, dancing. And just like this candle, everything extinguishing moment to moment, letting go moment to moment, to manifest moment to moment just this breathing, just this walking, just this singing, just this thinking and feeling and moving and smiling and being.