[ChiSing finished reading a poem...] I was only going to read that one, but I just thought another one I like. Some people wear this very attractive fragrance called vibes. And actually, those two poems embody two very important aspects of our practice. Many times we do feel alone—alone and burdened with regrets of the past, worries about future, right? And we do not realize that everyone else is worrying about the same things or regretting similar things, but we feel alone.
But through our practice of coming out of the delusive imaginary false make-believe of the past and the future we can begin to wipe everything clean once again to be truly present. That is what it does. It brings us back out of the regrets of the past and out of the worries about the future and back to the purity of the present moment. That is what we practice.
I do not know why I am remembering this story, but I will go with it. A few years ago, I was at a Zen temple in San Francisco, and we did meditation, and we had a little message, and then there was this part were we just did about 10 minutes of working meditation as part of the service. So, I was given the duty of sweeping. I began to sweep, and the wind would blow, and the leaves would go on to the step, and I would sleep again. The leaves would come again, and I would sweep back. And I would sweep, and other sections would get things blown there again, and I just swept.
Our practice is eternal, because there is always more to do, more to practice. Even as we get the sidewalks swept, tomorrow it will need sweeping again, right? And even as we come back into the present moment, wiping our consciousness clean, free from past and future, and yet the next moment comes up and the next and the next. Every moment is a new moment to practice, to sweep. And it is okay because we are not sweeping for perfection. That is not the point.
If I was sweeping to keep that temple porch perfectly clean for eternity, I would be sweeping for a very long time. But I was only sweeping for that moment. That was just my duty and that moment, and I just swept knowing that that is just what I am doing now, and it is okay that maybe tomorrow somebody else will have to sweep it. I am just doing my part today, and that is enough. I will have something else to do tomorrow, and that is enough.
So, that is our practice, and the second poem that I read also is part of our practice, the practice of vibes. You see, we are not just practicing just for ourselves and just so that we can feel peace today to some relative, small degree. We also practice so that we can deepen in the practice so that it creates this field of energy, this light from our heart radiating strongly and evenly and beautifully so that it keeps on going, moment by moment by moment. It creates vibes.
So we are not just practicing for our own self, our own feeling, or just this momentary peaceful relief, but to create a beautiful force field, a vibe of enlightenment within and around us that keeps growing strongly until all of us vibing together create the Pure Land on earth, the kingdom of heaven on earth—and not just for our generation, but for the next, and they for the next, and the next.
But what we do does not have that kind of power without practice, you see? Your vibe is kind of so-so. It needs to be strong, and to do that it takes practice together, cultivation and development of mindfulness.
Many different insights came to me during my retreat, and by the way, to go from a weak vibe to a strong vibe—that was what I was talking about earlier. It kind of floated away as my brain got foggy for a moment. To go from a weak to a strong vibe, how do we do that? We practice. We cultivate. We develop our mindfulness, and we do not do it alone. We do it with each other because it is not just for this moment or this generation or this lifetime. We want to do this practice so that it lasts a long time and reverberates far and wide throughout space and time.
But, see, we are like little raindrops, precious little raindrops, cute little raindrops, and we evaporate so quickly. As I was thinking about my mortality during these retreats, I realized that if I were to die this year or next, what would happen to the Dallas Meditation Center? It might close down. I do not know. What would you guys do? Where would you go? I do not know. And so I began to realize I need to create my vibe even stronger than it is, which means that I need to support you to become as strong as me in the practice so that if I go away, someone else can easily take my place.
And, not only that, but if this center is connected to a bigger movement, then it has more vibes, too, which is why I have been encouraging you all to please go see our root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. Be connected to the greater community. But then maybe you can keep the practice going here strongly and make sure that we are always connected to the greater community, the global community of mindful living, which we are a part of. We are just one small branch in Dallas, of a global system of communities, and they are beautiful communities, but if we were just independent by ourselves, we might last a few years, but it might fizzle also.
For us to keep going on and on strongly, we need to stay connected to the greater mother ship of Plum Village. I want that. Then whatever we do here will last much longer, even if this particular location does not exist anymore in a few decades. It is okay. The practice will be so strong that we will have added our energy to the greater movement of the communities, and we will go on through them. You see? If we do not connect our practice to that greater movement, whether it is Thich Nhat Hanh or some other great spiritual movement, what we do is a spiritual community locally here is good but limited because all of us essentially will grow old, die, move, or whatever, but the force of our vibe can continue strongly and keep nurturing something that will be lasting centuries if we stay connected.
So even if this particular expression of the community changes or gets absorbed in some other community, that is okay. What we do here is still connected to the greater community. That vibe is carried by the greater community century after century after century. So we still actually exist or inter-exist even if this physical form does not. So if you add your little raindrop with each other here and then with your greater community and with our teacher and with other wonderful communities connecting all around the world, then it becomes raindrop by raindrop into a river that grows and grows and grows, a mighty river that cannot run dry, a mighty river that nourishes all beings, the mighty river that carries us all to the one ocean of infinite light.
To make our vibe stronger—by the way, I am just using the word vibe, but really it is a true reality. Ancient ones in Buddhism called it Buddha field, buddhaksetra, a Pure Land. Every Buddha has a Pure Land, and since all of us are baby Buddhas, we all have our Pure Lands also. A great Buddha like Amitabha might have a whole universe of the Pure Land, but our Pure Land might be very small. This is my little Pure Land. And collectively, of course, we created this Pure Land right here, this center.
But we all have our Pure Lands, so the practice of Buddhism and of Pure Land Buddhism and of all kinds of Buddhism and of all true spiritualties, not just Buddhism, is the practice of creating energy fields, cultivating our vibe, making our vibe stronger, and reaching out more and more. That is our practice, to strengthen our vibe and let our vibe reach far and wide, to create the Pure Land here and now.
See, my energy field, my Pure Land, is not just physically a land that I am on. It is also the energy field of how I relate to others, my relationships, my work relationships, my family relationships. My words, my thoughts, my actions create an energy field, and it reverberates and ripples across the world. Jesus called this the kingdom of heaven on earth. You see? To Jesus, the whole universe is God's kingdom. That is how enlightened he is. He can see that.
To the Buddha, he sees the whole universe also asked the Pure Land. But to our deluded minds, our immature minds, maybe we only see a little bit of the Pure Land, and so that is okay. We start with where we are at and we allow our Pure Land to keep growing until we connect with others' Pure Lands and collectively realize the whole universe is the Pure Land. The whole universe is in energy field of light and love and life. The whole universe is the kingdom of heaven.
One very powerful way to practice strengthening our vibe is to spend time at a monastery, maybe one week a year or whatever you can do. It is interesting. Buddhist monasteries and Catholic monasteries and other kinds of monasteries in different traditions, even though they are different religious traditions, there are so many similarities. All of them wake up at 4 a.m. in the morning. I do not know what that is all about. Oh goodness. If I ever create a monastery, I do not think I'm going to put sleep deprivation at the top of the list.
But what is wonderful about a monastery, it does not matter what kind. Just go to any monastery: Catholic monastery, Buddhist monastery, whatever kind of monasteries there are out there these days. I do not even know, but just go. A true monastery will be near nature. It will have some quiet. A true monastery will have people that live there full time that take care of the property, that garden and that cook and clean. A true monastery will have people living there that make spiritual life their number one priority. And just to those parts of the monastery are enough to really support your spiritual practice, because to be in that kind of environment so healing and so cleansing and so supportive.
The reason it does not matter what kind of tradition is because really what matters is not religious belief. It is not about religious beliefs. It is more about spiritual practice, spiritual cultivation, and spiritual development. You see? I think that is why Thomas Merton, a wonderful Catholic monk said of Thich Nhat Hanh, a wonderful Buddhist monk, that he feels that this simple, humble Buddhist monk from Vietnam—he feels sometimes an even closer brotherhood with him then with some of his other Catholic acquaintances. Because true spirituality, true depth of spirituality is not dependent on religious belief, but on spiritual practice.
Because you could have someone who calls themselves a Buddhist but who does not really practice and a Christian who may not know much about Buddhism but practices lovingkindness, forgiveness, healing, supporting others. From my point of view as a Buddhist, the Christian is more Buddhist than the Buddhist, because true Buddhism and true Christianity is not about religious belief, although of course religious beliefs as part of that. But more important than religious belief is spiritual practice, spiritual cultivation, spiritual development. That is what is most important.
What is interesting is that when you meet people from different religious traditions who are very spiritually mature, spiritually developed, whose heart spiritually is very, very profound, they are not the ones who declared the wars. They are not the one that look to the scriptures for excuses for violence. No. They are the ones who are totally okay holding hands with people from other faiths. They are the ones who are totally fine with dialoguing peacefully and sharing information so that we can mutually enrich each other, you see?
So even though I'm I call myself a Buddhist right now, and we might do a lot of Buddhist things here, really it is not about Buddhism. It is about spirituality. I just personally like Buddhism, so it is a little bit more Buddhist here than other things, but you know? It is like this light, this lampshade, or that one over there. The light itself is light, and so the truth is truth, and there is no such thing as Christian light versus Buddhist light versus Jewish light versus Hindu light. There is only one light.
There is only one infinite light, and when I chant Amitabha, even though Amitabha is a Buddhist word, I am using it to go beyond Buddhism to the infinite light beyond all of these isms. That is what I'm really touching when I say the word Amitabha. It goes beyond. And when someone else is saying Hare Krishna or Hallelujah, if they truly practice deeply, they can go beyond to the one infinite light but these words are all pointing to.
There is just one light, but some people like me might prefer a Buddhist lampshade, or you might want a Christian lampshade or a Jewish lampshade or a nonreligious lampshade. And that is okay. You know? Lampshades make life more spicy, more interesting, so, you know, viva all the differences. Celebrate all the different kinds of religious flavors. Celebrate all the different kinds of cuisines. Celebrate all the different kinds of dances and music and cultural wonderful heritages. Celebrate them, but celebrate them knowing that beyond that is the one infinite light that unites and unifies all of us. And that is really the more important thing.
You know, religious traditions sometimes get carried away by their own ism, and even Buddhism does the same thing, and I do that sometimes also, and that is okay, but when we believe strongly in something, it does help to preserve that tradition over centuries of time. Honestly if everyone did not really believe that strongly about their particular practice, well, how long is it going to last, right? It will not last very long. But when people believe strongly, they create a very thick, impenetrable container so that it can continue to go on generation after generation.
The problem is people start worshiping the container that's not the content of the container. People start worshiping the lampshade and not enjoying the light. So be careful, be mindful about that, because Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Native American spirituality—all of the different spiritualties—they are beautiful in their own ways. They have their problems also, but they have their good points of course, because that is why they exist. Celebrate it, enjoy it, love it, embrace it, share it, but remember it is not about the ism or the entity or the whatever. It is about the light of love, the light of life that all of us our manifestations of, all of us.
So, in the spirit of interfaith spirituality, one day a couple of weeks ago in one of my retreats, it came into my heart from deep within to change my practice a little bit for that day comment to use the mantra God is love. Now, some of you in the room may not use the word God. Maybe that does not resonate for you, and that is okay. When I say the word God, I am not talking about an old man with the beard on a throne in the sky, okay? I'm not talking about that. I'm not even talking about it being necessarily or a person. I'm talking about God as a word referring to the infinite light of source and the ground all of our being. So God is love, and since all of us are expressions and manifestations of that Godness, I am love. You are love. This flower is love. This tree is love.
So as I was using the mantra God is love, breathing in God, breathing out is love, God is love, God is love silently in my heart throughout the entire day, my heart just opened to a deep wisdom transcending religious boundaries. It is funny. That happens a lot of Buddhist retreats for me. Jesus comes up or whatever. It is funny. You would think I would have the vision of Buddha or something at a Buddhist retreat, but no. Jesus comes up or God or something else. God is love. And I began to see this truth of that, which transcends religious boundaries. And what came to my heart was seven different awakenings that are important for all of us.
So the first awakening—they're not necessarily in chronological order, but I'm just putting them in this order. The first awakening that humans can awaken to is the truth that God is real. Even an atheist can awaken to this truth and still be an atheist. I'm not saying that it is talking about God in a particular way. An atheist can be a very spiritually enlightened atheists also, if you understand that the word is not limited to one particular definition. So God is real.
What that means on a deeper level is that, again, spirituality is not about religious belief, but religious or spiritual experience, spiritual practice, cultivation, and development, spiritual experience. That is what I mean by God is real. We have to awaken to the reality of spiritual reality as an experience and not just of the leaf. Just because you say that you believe in God does not mean that God is real to you yet. That is what I mean.
And even though an atheist says I do not believe in your kind of God, they can actually experience God. You see? They may not call it God, but it is God, the reality of spiritual experience. So we have to awaken to the spirituality or God or Buddha nature—whatever you want to call it—awaken to its reality experientially, deep in our bones at the core of our heart, deeper than just intellectual surface ascent or belief or dogma or doctrine. God is real.
The second great awakening is that God is one, and the third awakening is that God is love. The fourth awakening, God is in all. And then what came to me after that were three other awakenings, the fifth being awakening to the truth that—or, I do not know exactly how to say it, but basically it is a practice of releasing all that is not true, releasing all that is not good, releasing all that is not love, to release all of that. Release all that hinders love. You could say it that way.
And the sixth awakening is its companion, cultivate all that is true. Cultivate all that is good. Cultivate all that is beautiful and all that is love. So perhaps, cultivate that which supports love. You could say it that way. Finally, the seventh awakening: our purpose is to become a fully enlightened channel of God's love in the universe. Our purpose is to become a fully enlightened channel of the love that is at the core of Buddha nature, our true enlightened nature in this universe.
What is interesting is as I was meditating on these revelations that were coming to me was that each religion has the little emphasis on one of these more or less I thought about it, and of course it was just a general realization, not necessarily completely fully true, but when I thought about God is real, I thought of one of the most ancient traditions is Hinduism. So God is really real for them, and then along came Judaism, reminding us well, God is one. And then Jesus came along, God is love. And to remind us all of the fourth truth are the simple, humble, beautiful tribal peoples of the earth that have kept the most ancient wisdom alive to this day, and that is God is in all.
And releasing all that is not true or good or love, well, that is a Taoism emphasis. Just let go of that which is not true and then you automatically have what is good, true, and beautiful. It is a Taoist principle. And sixth, cultivate all that is good or true or love, to cultivate them. That is an emphasis in Confucianism, for example, in other traditions. Confucianism is very—it emphasizes very much cultivating true virtue and character and relationships in harmony with heaven an Earth and humans.
And then the seventh, becoming a fully enlightened channel of love in the universe. Well, that is an emphasis in Buddhism, right? And of course all traditions have all of these in various ways. I am not saying one is the only, but I am just giving an example. If we could all see that every tradition has something to offer, then we would not fight and kill each other. We would learn from each other and enrich our own tradition.
Now, of course, of all of these awakenings, I personally have a bias toward number three, God is love. I love that one the most. So yay, Jesus. So now, by the way, you can also correspond these different awakenings to the seven chakras as well, but I do not have time to go into detail about that. You can read the e-mail I sent about that or just use your intuition.
Anyway, I want to bring this down to practical before I close the message. I'm going to share that I felt a deep peace a few days ago finally. Some of these retreats were pretty tough on me, and I did not necessarily feel peaceful at the time. That is okay, because when you practice, you do not look for the results while you are practicing. It usually happens afterwards some time. It kind of happens spontaneously, but finally I was like, okay. I have done five weeks. If I do not have anything to share with anyone comment they are going to close the center down. So Buddha, you had better speak to me.
But finally at the retreat and Vancouver with Thich Nhat Hanh a couple of days ago, it finally happened in the morning, just as a gentle breeze of peace just washed through me. Ah. And even though I also got sick, the peace was there, through illness. My mother felt it in the last night. The peace was still there. And even though I did not want to get up early this morning to preach at this other church in Arlington, I got up anyway, and the peace was still there. And even though I could not even think about what to say this morning because my mind was so foggy, it was definitely a lot foggier this morning than right now. I am struggling for words, but even so, the peace was there.
And I did not know how long the state of peace will last, but I am just enjoying it right now because all states of mind come and go. That is just the nature of reality. Be okay with that. So I am okay with that. But I really am enjoying it, because on the morning that this happened, I was doing walking meditation, and I just walked very slowly. It did not matter to me that I was going to be late for the dharma talk.
I just walked slowly for about 45 minutes or so, and there was this big giant black crow walking on the lawn nearby. I noticed for the first time how a crow moves. It moves like—here is its head and here is its tail when it walks. It is kind of like swishing its butt. It is kind of cute, and its head kind of does this movement. It was the most beautiful, amazing thing I have ever seen. It was so cute. I just wanted to squeeze it. It was such a beautiful manifestation of Buddha nature, of God's love, of the universe, and I just loved it. I loved that black crow.
And then I started seeing all the different colors of the flowers, and I was like, wow. There are a lot of different designs of flowers. And then I am only walking a quarter of a mile or so. I wonder how many other wondrous designs of flowers there are in the rest of the world. Here on my path there are already so many, dozens. And the trees—tree leaves, even tree leaves the way they form shapes, and there was one that was very interesting. I had never seen it before, and it was just a normal kind of what you would think of a tree leaf, but it was jagged at the edges. It was amazing.
And then there was this plant on the ground that was as fuzzy as the rabbit. I have no idea what kind of plant that is, but I want to find it and put one here at the center. I loved it. I bent down and touched it and I petted it like a rabbit. It was so cute, and I talked to it. "You are so cute. You are a beautiful creation of God. You are a beautiful manifestation of Buddha nature. You're a beautiful existence of the universe. I love you. Thank you for being so creative. Thank you for being you."
And on one other tree there were these little tiny green aphids crawling around, and I was being a little playful, so I took a little object in my pocket and just gently tickled them. They scurried off. They were so cute. If God, if Buddha nature, if the universal reality puts that much detail into a flower, into an aphid, into a tree, into a bird, into you and me, how can you ever doubt that you are loved beyond imagining?
It took so many centuries and millennia, billions of years to make you appear now. How could you ever doubt that you are loved beyond imagining? You are so precious. And not just you, but your neighbor also—all of your neighbors, gay or straight, black or white or Asian or Latino, Muslim or Jewish or Christian or Buddhist, short or tall, young or old—all of your neighbors, human or animal or plant—all beings are precious beyond imagining.