Thank you, dear friends, for your beautiful practice tonight. When I was asking for inner guidance as to what to talk about tonight, a few topics came to mind, but of course since we are having a shorter service tonight, I cannot talk about all of those topics. So, I'm just going to keep it simpler and shorter tonight, and maybe next month or so I can give you the longer teaching. One of the topics is four different kinds of meditators, the six paramitas of aspiring bodhisattvas, and 12 healthy healing practices. But I'm not going to talk about any of those tonight, because that would be too long.
Tonight I'm just going to speak from my heart about some little jewels of insight that I've been having over the last few months. One of the insights I had was I was in California and it was, I guess, August, and I had just come back from a monastery, and there was really lovely energy there, and so I visited my friend Ari, and we took a little walk, a little hike with his dog near where he lives, and there were lots of hills and trees and a body of water, and the sky had pink clouds and the sun was setting. It was very beautiful, and the wind was blowing, and so we sat on this bench, and we meditated for about 20 minutes or so.
And during that sitting practice, I just felt there was such beauty. The Pure Land of the Buddha was radiating in all of the beauty around me, and in that moment there was this little spark of insight that arose in my heart. It was this—and of course, whenever we practice we have sparks of insight that arise from time to time. Those sparks could arise during the actual practice, but most of the time they arise after some time. But, it does not matter when they arise. But when they do, make sure you are mindfully able to receive and put it into practice as well.
So the insight was that my job is not to convert every human being on the planet to Mahayana Buddhism or even specifically Thich Nhat Hanh's version of Buddhism or even specifically a Pure Land approach to the dharma, even though for me right now these particular dharma teachings and practices mean so much to me. I do believe it can help most people in the world, but that is not my job. I realize that our job is not to convert the whole world. It is rather just simply to be an encouraging presence and witness through our embodied presence that can be helpful to someone, particularly in a one-on-one situation, where if we can be mindful enough in that moment, we can know the wisdom of what to say that may help them to at least take the next logical step for them in their spiritual journey.
So that means if I am talking to a fundamentalist hellfire Christian evangelical, my job is not to tell them about Buddhism and to try to convince them to become Buddhist. That is too big of a step, okay? My job as an inspiring bodhisattva is to listen, to understand where they are coming from, and then to hopefully get in touch skillfully with the inner wisdom to know what to say or do that might help them naturally, effortlessly take the next step. Maybe their next step is instead of hellfire fundamentalist evangelical, they can be a fundamentalist evangelical who focuses more on the grace aspect of the gospel. You see? So when I had that realization, I had such a beautiful feeling of peace in my heart and a smile, and when that happened I knew that this was a true insight. And so from time to time, I've been trying to remember that insight in my dealings with people, including my family.
Recently, my mother, who is very worried for my soul, invited the Southern Baptist minister of her church to come to the house and speak to me and pray for me to make sure I am saved, and I appreciated that. And so instead of having the former reaction I would sometimes have in the past of please, give me a break. I don't want this. This is very offensive, and I don't need this. Instead, I saw this as a bodhisattvic opportunity to be present to this situation one-on-one with the priest. And so I listened, and I asked him his story, and he went on and on for half an hour or more of his journey and his spiritual experiences and how Jesus meant so much to him. And so I listened, and I really was interested in his particular experience and his understanding of divine grace. And then after he shared, I shared with him what I felt might be helpful to him to maybe open up just a little bit to something more grace-oriented within his understanding, within his own tradition. And what was interesting was he actually revealed that he—
You know, we somehow got onto the topic of hell, and I was just suggesting that it does not make any sense to me to talk about the God of love who could allow his own child to spend an eternity in torture just because in their very short lifespan they didn't quite have the right set of beliefs. It just doesn't make any logical sense to me. And so I was wondering if there was some way that we can understand this a little bit better, and because of this dialogue, he did reveal to me that he secretly, through his own theological studies, he did not quite believe anymore in eternal torments as the meaning of hell. He thought, well, it makes a little more sense to me that maybe what it really means is that if someone continually continues to reject God's love, God is not going to force them. So they will just disappear into nothingness, you know? Their soul will just disappear back into the nothingness from which it came, as if they had never existed. So I thought that was interesting, you know?
And so I used that to just write him a letter the next day, just like, you abandoned an old idea that did not make sense to you to embrace this other idea a little bit secretly, something that you probably have not shared with your congregation, but it is because there is a part of you that knows that God's love cannot do these sorts of things, that there is a disconnect theologically. You know that you went with your heart. So in the same way I wonder if we might be able to go one step further and see that perhaps the God of love would somehow find a way so that no one even has to be annihilated but all would be saved, all will be included in some way, through some means, you know? I personally believe in reincarnation, so I believe that we have many, many chances. But of course that would've been way too over his particular theological understanding, so I didn't mention that. But I just said, "In some way, somehow, I am sure the God of love would find a way continually to be of loving service to all beings so that they can all be included." So I just suggested that. And I forwarded him a book online that is a beautiful book from an evangelical point of view that is espousing the belief that God wants to save all persons. And this is called Christian Universalism. So this is a very ancient teaching in the church, even though it was a minority view, but it is getting more and more popularity once again in the 21st century, probably because it is true. Or at least it is pointing toward the truth.
So that is an example of really being with someone where they are at, listening to them, understanding where they're coming from, and then instead of coming from a place of trying to convert, come from a place of just wanting to be helpful to them in their particular understanding. So, I feel almost very confident that he is going to start moving toward that more universal understanding. And you know what? I'm going to pray for him. I'm going to pray for him, that he will find more love and grace and peace in his life through this more expansive understanding of his Christian theology. So, before, I would've been angry and offended at times and turned off and argumentative and saying, "I don't want you to pray for me." But no. I'm glad he is praying for me. And I'm going to pray for him, too. Tit for tat. I'm going to pray for him, too because I know that prayer is a beautiful thing. It is a way of getting in touch with the beautiful intention of your kind heart.
Another insight I had recently on my cancer healing journey is that I'm discovering more and more that my going through this cancer healing journey, only a small fraction or percentage of it is about me and my particular karmic lessons. But actually most of this is about a lot of other people, and this makes sense because more high-level bodhisattvas—and I don't even know if I could call myself a bodhisattva, but at least I am an aspiring bodhisattva. But higher-level bodhisattvas, everything they do and everything they go through is really just for the sake of other beings primarily. Because most of the higher-level bodhisattvas, they have already learned all of their lessons. They've already walked through all of their karma, and so everything they do and experience in a particular expression of life is just for others. So even when they have so-called accidents or when they get sick or when they even die and the way they die, it is all just to teach and help others.
So, as an aspiring bodhisattva, I am also seeing some of the truth in my journey also that instead of looking at this as, poor me, I'm having to go through this cancer, I'm starting to see it from the point of view of oh, this was meant to happen at this particular time because there are certain persons that need to encounter me and that I am meant to be of service to at this time, and I never would've met them any other way. So the nurses and doctors I've met so far, I would never have seen them, never talked with them or met or been in their presence if I hadn't gone through this. And you know, it may not be that I would necessarily say anything, although I probably will, because I will probably write a letter to every single doctor and nurse that I've encountered and share with them my insight about alternative holistic natural health and wholeness, and maybe it will help them look more into these things, because there are things that most of them are not learning in medical school. So maybe I will share letters with them.
But you know, just sitting in the office and being a patient and having a smile and showing that I am not afraid anymore—I was. I was scared, believe me. Come on. I'm a human being. But after the practice, I've gotten in touch much more with my faith and my hope and my confidence and the truth that we are never really born and we never really die. So I can just be a mindful presence, and I can be humorous. I can try to be humorous with all the nurses and make them laugh and just, I am sure that most of the time when they see cancer patients, they are scared. They are frightened. They are miserable. They're depressed. They are desperate. But I am not showing any of those feelings to them. I'm not coming across as desperate or afraid or depressed or whatever. I just say thank you to them after all of their particular advice, whether I agree or disagree with their particular advice on a treatment plan. I just say thank you and say, "I appreciate you for all of your training and everything. You have such good intentions, and you're trying to be so helpful, and I really appreciate it. Thank you."
And also, going through this journey is also giving you the opportunity to create more positive merit and transform any negative karma that you may have and help lift you up in your consciousness, in your spiritual journey, because whenever you help a bodhisattva, that is great, tremendous merit. And I'm not saying I am a full-fledged bodhisattva, but because I am an aspiring bodhisattva, you also get some merit, too, and I've been noticing that. People who contributed financially to my fundraiser, so many beautiful beings, people I haven't ever even talked to before. Some people who just knew me from online contributed $50 here and there. It was beautiful, and I know that they are being blessed because of them blessing me. And also not just financially, but people have been giving me books and blanket and quilts, giving me hugs, giving me beautiful letters, voicemails, text messages, e-mail. What a blessing they have been to me, and I know that they have been blessed because of their blessing me.
And you know, another way you bless me is by allowing me to bless you through sharing the dharma. In the teaching of generosity called dana in Buddhism, there are a few different ways that we practice generosity. Giving of food, giving of material needs, time, and energy, and giving of our presence and non-fear in chaotic situations and also sharing the Dharma with others. So that is my practice of giving, but whenever someone gives, then they are creating positive merit for themselves as well, and it is a blessing for others. And so this is the basic fundamental reality of the universe. This is a true spiritual principle in the universe. I have seen its reality over and over again.
So, when I share the dharma, I am also creating positive merit in my life, which means that I actually have to share the dharma. But if you're not here for me to share the dharma with, I do not get that merit, that particular merit. So I could be speaking for hours on the dharma, but if there's no one in the room to listen, I am not really receiving the merit of that generosity. So actually, you are being generous to me when you show up and you listen to the dharma and you receive the dharma through me, because then I also get blessed by the merit because you have received the dharma from me, and of course sometimes you can't come physically to the Center, so thanks to our illustrious webmaster, you can listen to the dharma online and you can bless me in that way as well. And of course you're blessing yourself, too.
See, blessing is all about giving and receiving. It is never a one-way street, and that is really the reality of this universe, that everything that we receive also gives to others, and everything that we give to others is also receiving as well. There is no giving without receiving. There is no receiving without giving. Why? Because there is no separation. There's only oneness and interbeing. That is the true reality of the universe.
And I guess I will share one little last jewel of an insight with you that I had recently. And that is don't focus too much on one issue or problem or challenge. Broaden the mind. Go beyond the small self. So in my case, I need to take time to think about things other than cancer. Because I noticed that everything I was thinking about and reading about and sharing about was all, "Cancer this," and, "Cancer that," and well, that would be a mistake on my part if I focused that much on it because then what I am doing is I am blocking out the greater reality that is not about cancer at all. There is so much more to life than just my particular problem or my particular suffering or my particular illness.
So part of our mindfulness practice is to make sure that we don't allow ourselves to get sucked up into the black hole of whatever problem or issue we are going through. Through our mindfulness practice, it's like if you're suffering, all you seem to see is suffering everywhere. It is all over the place. Oh my gosh. But through mindfulness practice, we put down the suffering, put it in perspective. We don't deny it. It is still there, but we also bring our mindfulness to everything else that is around. The sky is so blue today. The sun is shining through the clouds. The earth is so nice to touch. The flowers on the altar are lovely. My baby nephew is learning to say no. It is so cute. So many wonderful things. And so it is important for us to broaden our heart-mind awareness.
And so for those of you who may be, for example, in 12-step recovery programs, I want to give this advice to you as well. Of course there is a certain time when you need to really focus on your recovery and nourish yourself deeply, but then there are also times where you need to start broadening, too. You need to start having friends that are not just people that you know from your recovery group. You need to have friends in other communities, in other contexts. You need to have friends in the sangha, too. You need to think about other things, think about your goals in life and other things in life and your relationships and your spiritual practice and not just about recovery. And this is true not only for those who are specifically in 12-step recovery, but all of us are in life recovery. All of us are in life recovery because whether you have a formal addiction or not, we all have an addiction of some sort. We are addicted to all kinds of distractions in life.
And so we are in life recovery, but we don't want to focus only on our issues or problems or challenges, because that would be a mistake like I almost made in just focusing only on cancer. Broaden your mind-heart awareness. Thank you so much for your practice and for being generous to me by receiving the dharma through me, and also thank you for all of your generosity of supporting the Center financially and with your presence and with your volunteer help and also with your kind intentions to support us and all beings through this expression of the sangha locally here in Dallas. I'm very grateful to all of you.