Thank you, dear friends, for your practice tonight. I would like to share in this fall series seven essential dharmas, and it doesn't necessarily mean they are the only essential dharmas, but these are the dharmas that have meant a lot to me, either based on the Buddha's teachings or on my own insights from the practice. But tonight—this is not something necessarily taught in any particular school of Buddhism, but some of these ideas do come from various teachings of the Buddha. But this is my understanding of some spiritual laws.
There are more than five or six spiritual laws operating, but these are the ones I would like to share on: the law of attraction, the law of karma, the law of punya, or merit, which is a special kind of action, and the law of dharma, or lessons—in this case, that is what it means—the law of seva or service, and the law of grace. So you have about six laws here.
Okay. So, we all have heard of the law of attraction maybe from some books or TV programs or maybe some motivational speaker. So the idea of the law of attraction is that we are not just simply helpless victims of our circumstances—that we can actually change things through change of intention, a change of thinking. We can change things. And this of course corresponds to the Buddha's understanding of the nature of impermanence because things can change, so wonderful new things happen. So this is a positive understanding of impermanence.
So, we are not helpless victims. Through the law of attraction, the idea is that we can make a deep intention of the heart and begin to manifest those intentions into reality, to attract that into manifestation. But you may have heard or seen the movie or the book, The Secret. However, many people have tried these ideas out. They don't seem to be able to manifest these things right away. It does not seem to always work. So I think it's because the thing that the only law in the universe is the law of attraction is a little bit simplistic, a little bit na´ve, because there are other laws at work in the universe co-creating our reality.
So I would like to take some ideas from Buddhism and show how other laws are operating simultaneously with the law of attraction. So you may be wanting to make an intention, and you may put mental energy, emotional energy, and even action to support this into manifestation, but it does not seem to be always working. Perhaps there is another law at work, such as the law of karma. And karma just means action. The way we usually use it these days, we usually imply both the meaning of action and the consequences of action, the fruit of action. So we usually use the word karma in both senses.
So, the law of karma is about the law of cause and effect, and I like to think of it as the law of tendency and the law of habit energy. So, many times we are trying to create some new thing in our life through new intention, new attitude, new thinking, and yet something from the past seems to prevent us from really going forward in this new intention. It is because of these tendencies, karmic tendencies, from our past, either as an individual or collectively, maybe from our family or ancestral or society's kind of collective tendencies of habit energies. All of these things affect the present moment. The past always affects the present moment.
So if we have a lot of karmic tendencies that are bringing us down, that are negative, that are heavy, it is going to make it very difficult for our new intention to attract and manifest what we want in the positive direction because of these habit energies and tendencies, the consequences of our past actions area so we need to pay attention, be mindful of clearing out the negative or the heavy tendencies and energies of past actions. And we also need to create new actions that are going to be positive, to create new kinds of tendencies and new, wonderful, positive consequences.
And there is a special kind of karma or action called punya, which means merit. And this is a very important concept, especially in Chinese Buddhism. And it is a kind of action that is positive, of course, but specifically it is a kind of positive action that supports us on the path of enlightenment. So you may have positive action that is not necessarily directly supporting you on the path of enlightenment. You know, maybe you have a positive action that somehow cultivates your ability to be a good artist and just share beauty with others. That is wonderful, but it is not necessarily directly an action that is going to help you to become enlightened. It could, but not necessarily.
Punya is a special kind of positive action that specifically is about supporting us on the path of enlightenment. So, examples could be meditation, giving food to monks and nuns, chanting—any of these kinds of actions that support us in our spiritual practice and in our mindfulness practice. This is called punya, and it creates positive spiritual energy. And another idea of punya is that it creates a spiritual kind of power. It is like a spiritual battery. It is like a storehouse of energy that we create through these positive spiritual actions, and so later on I will talk a little bit about how we can actually receive others merit and give merit to others as well. But this is a spiritual energy.
So, when we're trying to create our intention, and we have cleared some of our karmic tendencies and created better karmic tendencies, yet if we do not have the spiritual power, many times our intention does not have enough power to truly manifest. So we may have a positive intention. We may have even cleared up our karmic tendencies, but if we do not have any oomph to it, it typically fades away. You know, maybe we'll do something for a few days that is really positive. Maybe we will start an intention to do something like meditation or whatever, but if we do not have enough spiritual energy cultivated, we do not really have enough power to follow through with our intention. Does that make sense?
So, as we are going through our life, we may notice that we find ourselves in the present moment maybe in a very difficult or challenging situation. Maybe we have some suffering. And so we might think, oh, it is probably because I did something bad in the past. It is probably something—it is my fault in some way. Even if we don't think so consciously, many of us have that subconscious feeling, maybe from past experiences, messages we heard from others growing up. So we have this sort of guilty feeling. And I want to give you some good news, that whatever we are going through is not necessarily just because we did not make the right kind of intention or because we did something bad in the past. It is not always so. There are many other laws at work to create our present reality.
The law of dharma—and dharma means many, many things in Buddhism and Hinduism and other traditions that use that word—but how I am using it tonight is to think of dharma as our lessons. What is it that we came into this particular life to learn? And so, sometimes it may be that you are in a particular situation that is difficult or challenging, not because you made the wrong intention or you had bad karma or something, but because this is the particular circumstance that is necessary for you to learn and grow, right?
So, for example, what if you are needing to learn or wanting to learn the lesson of compassion? Well, let me tell you. You can't learn the lesson of compassion if you are always going through pleasant experiences your whole entire life. There is no way that you can learn a lesson of compassion. And the same is true wisdom. There is no way for you to actually cultivate wisdom without going through various kinds of experiences in life, including the difficult as well as the joyful. All of it cultivates our wisdom.
So, try to keep that in mind, instead of going right into blaming yourself or blaming others or just going to the most negative thought. Just realize that in this moment, it may be manifesting partly because of your intentions or partly because of karma, but also there is a possibility that this is something that we can learn from and grow from. So look at it from the point of view of dharma. What is the lesson here? You know, try to find some jewel even in the darkest suffering. What jewel can be here? What jewel can be created from this? Right?
As we are going through this life, and we are going through to various challenges and difficulties and sufferings, perhaps contemplate on other laws as well—the law of seva, which means service. All of these laws I believe are occurring simultaneously, but also there can be certain characteristics—certain laws seem to predominate at certain phases of our life and maybe even predominate in certain lifetimes, if you believe in that sort of thing. I believe that people who are very, very wise, very compassionate, who have cultivated very deeply their spirituality, people who you might call very elderly bodhisattvas, beings on the path of enlightenment, who are very, very advanced on the path. I believe that for the most part, they are not really doing so much with trying to learn how to create intentions. They have already created intentions for a long time that are in a positive direction. And they are not necessarily working out karma. I think they have done their work. And maybe they have even learned most of the lessons that they need to learn.
Why are they here? Why are they going through challenges and difficulties? It is only because of service. Perhaps they were born into a situation where there was going to be a war, like our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, and it was a difficult situation, but perhaps he entered into it because he was simply being a bodhisattva. He was just being a light in the darkness. So the next time you find yourself in a challenging situation, think about that. Maybe it is not about any of the other things other than that you chose on some deep level in your heart whether consciously or unconsciously to be in that situation that you are in so that you could be a light. Because think about it. If you are not there, how much more dark it would be for all the other people involved in that situation. So you are there as a light in that situation.
So I do believe that there are certain beings who are on the planet right now—they are not really doing so much with the law of attraction, or the law of karma, or even the law of dharma necessarily, but primarily they are here just to be of service. They're here just out of pure love. They do not necessarily even have to be here, but they come out of love to just be of service and to be a light. And that is true of all of us really on some level. All of us are here also, just to be light in this world.
And one last law that I would like to share about is the law of grace. I like to think about this law of grace in connection with the law of merit or punya, because you see, when someone has realized fully the wisdom and compassion of their true nature, we call them a Buddha or a bodhisattva. And if you think about it, the Buddha cultivated spiritual practice for a few years and then one day he became enlightened. And yet, he continued to practice. So if the practice was only for himself and only for enlightenment, why would the Buddha keep practicing meditation after enlightenment? That is a question to meditate on.
I believe it is because through spiritual practice, it cultivated that positive energy, that merit, and when the Buddha was enlightened, he did not need to cultivate those spiritual practices and that energy for himself, but he still cultivated it because he wanted to offer the overflow of his spiritual reservoirs to others, to all beings. There is a spiritual teaching in one particular sect of Buddhism that I really think is beautiful, and it is that we get to sit here and enjoy our breath, enjoy our mindfulness, enjoy wisdom, enjoy the dharma, not because of our own cultivation, but because others cultivated before us. Other elder brothers and sisters in the path cultivated for us, and they offered their practice and their energy for us, and that is why we are sitting here right now.
And therefore, we don't need to be concerned about ourselves at all. Others practice for us. Others have offered their energies to us, and so in this pleasant moment, as we practice and cultivate, it is just surely a way of saying thank you and a way of passing and paying it forward. So now whatever we do, such as walking meditation, sitting meditation, chanting, bowing, generosity practice—whatever our spiritual practices are—it is not for us. We do not need to do it for ourselves. We just simply do it for others to share it with others.
So I like that. I like that teaching. I like that. I think it is a good attitude to have in our practice, that we do not have to be so concerned for ourselves. Others have already practiced for us. The Buddhas and the bodhisattvas offer us their energy, and now we simply practice for the benefit of others, and then they will practice to benefit others until it ripples across the whole universe, the whole planet. I think this is one of the deep meanings of the word Pure Land. It's an energy field of love and service. So as we receive the benefits, then we give the benefit, and other receive it and they give and give. And this is how the energy field, the Buddha field, the Pure Land—whatever you want to call it—the kingdom of heaven on earth, that is how it spreads.
And this connects with the Buddhist teaching on nonself, which we will talk about later when we talk about the Four Noble Truths. It does not mean that we do not exist. It is not a negative teaching at all. One meaning of nonself is that it means that we do not have a separate, solid kind of self unrelated to anything and anyone else. It means that we are permeable. We are permeable. So that makes it possible for us to receive the spiritual energy of others and to give our spiritual energy to others. I am so glad that this is true because if I was just left up to only karma, I think I would be a very sorry person. But no. We are not just stuck with our actions and consequences of actions. We get to share and receive help. We get to give and share help. Because we are not separate. We are permeable.
And so, open your heart to receive all the blessing energies of the enlightened sisters and brothers of the universe. Open your heart to receive the blessing energy of our teachers, such as Thich Nhat Hanh. Open your heart to receive the blessing energy of anyone in this room who may be a little bit older in the dharma then you are. Receive and then give. Come and practice here and elsewhere with every breath, with every mindful step, just offer your presence like a beautiful flower. You do not even have to do or say anything to be of benefit to others. Just radiate your heart of love to others. This is grace. As one bodhisattva once said, "Freely you have received. Therefore, freely give." And that is the attitude of the law of grace.
So, this week contemplate how these different kinds of laws are working in your life. All of them are working and all of them are important, and just see how you are practicing. I will close with one last story from my personal practice. I shared this actually a few weeks ago. I would like to share it again. When I went to Plum Village, which I have been to several times, the last time I was there, I wanted to offer a gift to Thay, to Thich Nhat Hanh, our teacher, and I had just come back from Hong Kong, so I had this cross, a wooden cross with the lotus flower holding the cross, and it symbolizes beautifully East and West—Eastern and Western spiritual wisdom together.
And so, I made sure to be in the front row—and there were several hundreds of people there—and I wanted to be in the front row, so I got there early. And as Thay and the other monks and nuns walked in, I dared to step in front of Thay. I stopped him, and I was like—I quickly opened my hands and put the lotus cross into his hands. At first, he did not know what it was. What is this? And then suddenly, he realized what it was, and he smiled, and it was as if a little energy from his heart just burst into the room. And I actually literally felt that, an energy burst of joy, and it hit my heart, and I just started to quake and shiver, and I started to have tears in my eyes.
It was the first time I had actually felt such a tangible spiritual energy radiating from someone. I had heard about the things before from spiritual teachers radiating energy. I think in the Hindu tradition they call it shaktipat, transferred spiritual energy. But anyway, it was so real, and I was so grateful to experience that spiritual energy. It just helps me to remember whenever I feel dry in my practice or I feel alone, I remember that spiritual energy is real, and that particular instance and other instances help me to remember that in my practice.
So I am so grateful to all of my spiritual teachers for the blessing energy they give, and it is my intention my life can be a channel of blessing as well, and I believe all of us in here also have that intention somewhere in our hearts to be a blessing to others. In Buddhism, we call that bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment, the mind that has the intention to serve all beings and to help all beings on the path of enlightenment.