To start off with, I will tell you what goes on in my mind sometimes when I am meditating. This is asked by someone at the Day of Mindfulness retreat yesterday, so I said, "Okay. I will see what goes on in my mind." I'm feeling my breath, feeling the body. I hear a few noises here and there. Feeling my heart energy, Amitabha, Amitabha, Amitabha. Gratitude, just feeling gratitude. Shopping list. What am I going to eat after this? I am really hungry. Amitabha. Amitabha. I hope I come up with something to say, because everyone is like expecting me to say something. Amitabha. Amitabha.
So, many people I think that come to meditation, they think they are a bad meditator. Well, they can't really read anyone else's mind, so they think they're the only ones where they can't seem to stop thinking, so they must be the worst meditator in the room because everyone else looks so peaceful and quiet and so joyful. And actually, if you stop thinking, that might mean you're dead, so be happy that you are having thoughts, okay? To stop all thinking is not the purpose of meditation. Now, if thinking suddenly ceases for long periods of time on its own, that is fine, but we do not make that happen, and we do not try to make that happen, and it is not even what we are trying to do at all. If they cease for a period of time, that is just what they are doing.
But what we're doing when we are practicing meditation is dis-identifying with thinking mind because most of the time we are so involved with it, that is what we think we are. We're dis-identifying with thinking mind and coming back to big minds, big heart, infinite, vast, clear sky, spacious awareness, consciousness. And we just keep doing that over and over again. It becomes easier and easier to re-identify with big mind rather than small, thinking mind. And eventually, we are identified—we are resting as big mind and the clouds of small mind are just happening. But see, the difference is, we are no longer the cloud. We're the sky, just letting the clouds come and go. You see? We're not destroying the clouds. We are just realizing we are not the clouds. We are so much greater.
So, some things that have helped me in my daily practice—well, let us just say in my meditation practice itself, I have, for me, I started off with just breathing in and counting my breath. Breathing in, one, breathing out, one. Breathing in, two, breathing out, two. On the way to 10, and whenever my mind wanders significantly in such a way that I completely forgot I was breathing or even counting, and I just stop counting and come back to my breathing in one, breathing out one, breathing in two, breathing out two. This is what I did 10 years ago at the start. This is a very traditional Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese Zen practice, which is counting the breath, just to help you with concentration.
Eventually I let go of counting, and then I was just feeling the breath, feeling the breath in, out, identifying in and out, in and out, and then I later on and started using mantras like, "Flower fresh, mountain solid. Water reflecting, space free." And then—and these were the kinds of mantras that were given to me in our meditation community. But eventually, I started to hear mantras in my heart and my practice, and they became much more powerful for me as I used them. "I am home. All is well." And along the way, I started to discover I had a major resonance with Amitabha, with the Pure Land tradition of entrusting in the heart, surrendering to the Buddha completely, surrendering to the universe, to reality, and entrusting, just trusting that there is this great support for me.
I remember one time a couple of years ago I was just meditating at home, and all of a sudden as I was breathing in and breathing out, Amitabha, Amitabha, there was this deep peace that just washed over me, and I really felt the power of Amitabha in that moment, and I realized that I did not even have to try to meditate. Meditation itself was a gift that was given to me by the universe, by Amitabha, by the infinite light of reality, and every breath I was taking was a gift, and every cell in my body was working and functioning as a gift. My heart was beating as a gift. And even knowing about meditation, knowing about spirituality was a gift given to me. And so I just realized, wow.
So for me, meditation is not about trying to get somewhere, to enlightenment. It is just simply sitting in the gift that has already been given to me. So as I sit, I'm just sitting with the gift of breathing and the gift of living and the gift of being on the earth, the gift of spiritual teachings that have been shared with me, the gift of practice, the gift of peace in this moment. It was amazing. It was so wonderful. It was one of my little breakthrough experiences.
And now whenever I skip a day of meditation, which once in a while I will still do that, I no longer feel guilty about it because all I do is if I know that I have skipped meditation an entire day and I'm about to go to bed, I'll just put my hands together at my heart, and I just chant, "Amitabha. Amitabha. Amitabha. Amitabha. Amitabha." You know, maybe just for a couple of minutes until I fall asleep. Because I know that just entrusting my heart to this gift of reality, it is not like reality is stingy, like, "Oh, you did not say thank you to me today." No. The nature of reality is constant generosity and constant gift, and so our practice is just to just receive it and to acknowledge it. Even if we don't, it has still been given to us, but in the moment we put our hands together at the heart and chant Amitabha, we remember, and that is enough.
And you see, the merit of others is then transferred to you, those who meditated for the day, all of their merit is transferred to you as if you meditate about day. You see? And when you meditate more than your usual amount of time, then you offer that merits others, and so someone else in the world is receiving the power of your meditation practice, even if they did not meditate that day. You see? This practice is about generosity, giving and receiving,
And so you know, all spiritual beings in the universe, they know that not everyone is ready for everyday meditation or twice a day meditation or hours long meditation every day. Not everyone is ready for that, and that is okay. But if you can just come back to the heart and then trust yourself, that is enough, and that then carries you to the next level, and sooner or later, just on its own, your life will just want to meditate and want to practice, not only for yourself, but for others, to offer that merit for others.
Now in my actual sitting meditation, because I have a bit of an ADD personality type, I have a lot of thoughts, I think more than most people. So I was tell people if I can meditate, anyone can. In my mind, what I do is I stay with my mantra. Maybe it is Amitabha mixed in with, "I am home." "Amitabha. I am home," or, "Amitabha. All is well. Amitabha. All is well." Or whatever. Eventually you realize they all mean the same thing, and it doesn't really matter what mantra you use. It is the infinite heart of love that is at the core of reality. And I just keep breathing, feeling my breath, chanting Amitabha with my heart, and then I'll just start thinking of something or somebody or whatever, and when I realize I have been completely lost, what I have found helpful is I just say, "Buddham saranam gacchami, dharmam saranam gacchami, sangham saranam gacchami. Amitabha. Amitabha." And I go back to my breath and the mantra. And every few minutes, I just come back to, "Buddham saranam gacchami." I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha. And doing that consciously, refocusing me, and then just coming back to Amitabha.
I love that, and actually I would highly recommend not for any of you, just some chant that you can say when your mind has really wandered off. Not if it is just wondering a little bit, but it has really wandered off and you just want to come back to what you're doing, just I take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. You can do that in Sanskrit or in English or whatever. I have found that very, very powerful for me, and I highly recommend it for you. I've been meaning to actually share this with you for several months, and I never had the chance, so now, please do that. Let Amitabha or whatever mantra be your daily thing you come back to in every thing, when you're walking to the car, when you're going to the grocery store, when you are waiting in line for something. Just Amitabha. Just let it be constant, you know?
And then in that way, even if you don't do your formal 20 minute sitting meditation practice that day, the power of the practice of others is transferred to you, and you radiate light. And eventually, you will share and that desire to want to transfer that to others by actually meditating every day. But come back to the refuge, I take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. Buddham saranam gacchami, dharmam saranam gacchami, sangham saranam gacchami. And that is enough.
And if you find it difficult to engage in meditation practice, then just do that. Come to the entrusting practice and also look at your ethical life. Bring mindfulness to the way you act and behave in the world with others, and be generous with your time, energy, and money with others, especially those who are doing good work in the world. If you do that, you will notice that your meditation practice then comes easier. Why? In traditional Buddhist teachings, before engaging an intense meditation, it was always recommended to practice shila and dana before practicing meditation. Shila meaning ethical conduct, being mindful about how you are seeking and acting and thinking, and also dana, which means generosity, giving, giving loving time, energy, and material resources to those in need as well as those who are serving others.
If you keep doing that and come to sangha every week, even if you don't meditate yet every day, you just meditate once a week with the sangha, practice ethical mindfulness as well as generous giving, and sooner or later, you will see the merits of others, of Amitabha, will then permeate your being and make it easier for you to practice meditation, not out of a sense of guilt or wanting to get something, but just in the sense of relaxing into just wanting to rest in the generosity of the universe and to say thank you. That is how I actually practice now. When I said, I'm not trying to get anything anymore. I'm just sitting as my way of saying thank you to life for giving me breath, giving me a body, giving me life. I just sit to receive the beauty of the universe for 20 to 60 minutes or whatever.
And one more thing: At the beginning, 10 years ago, when I first started practicing, do you know what really, really helped me a lot? It took me years before I actually did meditation. What really helped me: two things, really. At the beginning of my practice, it was to listen to dharma teachings on tape—well, back then tape cassette; now it is CD—every day for at least an hour. I actually listened to the same teaching every day for like a couple of months. I just let the words of Thich Nhat Hanh permeate my consciousness over and over and over and over again every day as I was driving to school whatever I was doing. I just listened to it, had it on constantly. I didn't listen to the news radio and other stuff. I listened to the dharma, and I just washed my brain with the dharma every day for several months. That really helped me a lot.
And of course, it doesn't have to be words. It can also be dharma music. Spiritual music. That was one of the things that really helped me at the beginning of my practice.
And the second thing was finally finding a sangha or a meditation community that I could just commit to coming to each week, at least once a week. I know that some of you may not be able to comics that maybe once a month, but if you can somehow get to a place in your life where you can come to meditation group at least once a week, that would be so helpful. It does not have to be this one. If you can only come to this one once a month, go to Shambala next week, and go to the Zen Center another week or whatever. Or if you can't even do that, call up one of us as a friend to just meditate with you. If just one other person meditates with you once a week, that is enough. It is so powerful as a support. And of course, you support another when you do that as well.
And then you will realize that the universe will give you the right questions to ask. Most of the time we are asking the wrong questions, which is why we are not getting answers. But through the practice, we start to from our heart comes the great questions, the true questions, and when the true questions arise from the heart, the universe already has the answers, and because of your practice, you can actually hear them and practice them. Amitabha.