Audience: Namo Amitabha.
ChiSing: So remember that "namo" is bowing of gratitude or taking refuge. Amitabha is our Buddha nature. It is infinite light, infinite love, infinite life. And the two always go hand-in-hand. Of course, there is a longer version, Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya. You can shorten it to just Amitabha. Anyway, I like this form. It has many, many, many meanings, and one of them is that all is well. And basically, it is our human nature and our divine or Buddha nature. They are not separate.
Our lives are all about balance. How do we practice in such a way that we can truly accept and include and honor human nature but not be lost in the mire and confusion of it? And how do we awaken to our true divine Buddha nature with wisdom and compassion and healing power without poo-pooing our human nature without judging our human nature as inferior, as unworthy. This is a balancing act for all of us. But the Buddha taught us the middle path between extremes.
One illustration he gave was someone trying to string instrument. If it was too lose, it would not play at all, but if he strung it too tightly, it would break the string. And so it is a matter of artistic balance to create beautiful music. And so our practice always walking the middle path is between a paradox of opposites. So I have been doing that practice a lot this year, really reflecting on and practicing with the paradox of opposites.
And before I go into depth a little bit more in a few minutes, I would like to just share so that I don't forget. I would like to share an insight or revelation that came to me during one of my meditations a few weeks ago. You know, the neat thing is you learn the scholarly dharma first.
You learn the textbook version of truth first, but then when you practice, practice, practice, just what happens after a few months or years of your life that you start realizing truth for yourself, that is not just the textbook version, but a truth that comes to you for your own practice, for your own wisdom that arises. It is lovely when that happens, isn't it? It is no longer just a textbook answer. It may be even similar to the textbook answer, but now it is your answer, your truth. And I love it when that happens. And that has been happening for me more and more frequently this year.
And one of the insights I had was I woke up one morning during this retreat I was at. I don't remember if I shared this with you or not, but I woke up as if guides or angels were conversing with me, whispering in my ear. And I was waking up from the conversation, and when I woke up, it was this feeling of how did I ever forget? Oh yes. That is right. That is the truth. Now I remember. The reality of universal sangha means that really, we are all here as one big family. You know? And it doesn't matter that some people, maybe like Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama or whoever are very, very awakened and light. And it doesn't matter that some people are still just very lost and mired in their confusion.
We are part of one family. And so you can't judge each other. Like, oh, those teachers are way too holy for me. I'm just unworthy. Or boy, those people are just really, really inferior. They're just so lost. You know, you can't say things like that because we are all one family. And I realized that one of the reasons why we are here is to learn how to be family. We have our elder brothers and sisters, and we have our younger brothers and sisters, and then the brothers and sisters who are similar in our age. And when I say similar in age, I don't mean chronological age. I mean spiritual age.
We all come to this planet at different levels. Now, whether or not you believe in reincarnation, it doesn't necessarily matter, because there are different ways you can think of it to make sense for you. For example, if you don't believe in reincarnation, that's okay. Just know that when we come here, we came from, let's say, some heavenly realm, where we had already advanced at certain things or whatever and then came here, and then we go back. You can think of it as one life, but we preexisted before. So that is one way of thinking about how come there are different levels of advanced spiritual practice in people's lives.
But if you want to go with the traditional Hindu or Buddhist understanding, well, there are many lives that are possible, and there's a lot of different development. In this lifetime, you see, some people are very advanced spiritually and some people are not. And then many of the people that we interact with our sort of in similar states more or less. And so the insight for me was that one of the things I'm here to do is to learn how to recognize my elder brothers and sisters, to respect them and to honor them and to receive teachings from them. Because the travesty of most of our lives would be if we never opened ourselves to the wisdom and power and compassion that is available to us from our elder brothers and sisters. You know?
I mean, there are very wise and loving people walking on the planet. Why wouldn't we want to get to know them and receive from them? I feel so blessed that I knew who Thich Nhat Hanh was. You know? About 15 years ago, I read a book by him, and it just changed my life. And because of that, I wanted to receive more from him and other teachers, and that has benefited me so much. To be able to recognize, honor, and receive from our elder brothers and sisters, they are all around on the planet. And now with Google, they are even more accessible.
But we also have our sangha brothers and sisters. And see, I don't want us to think of the younger brothers and sisters as being somehow bad. We all start out young to get to elderly, right? So that is just where they are at. And where they are at, we used to be in some way or another, okay? So there is no judgment. But our younger brothers and sisters need us. They need us to practice mindfulness. They need us to practice skillful means, which means we have to be creative and ingenious about how we communicate. Because, if you know, you can't just say, "Okay. This is what I'm going to believe. This is what you have to do. Now believe it." They're not going to buy it.
So you have to come up with creative means. That is what skillful means means, upaya. Creative, skillful means to communicate. Sometimes it is not even with words that you have to communicate, you see? But you learn how to communicate.
For example, one minister was trying to share with me because he was concerned for my salvation, and he wanted to share his understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ. And, I was very grateful that he had a sincere heart to share something precious to him with me. That is great. But instead of my usual reaction, which would've been cringing and like judging, like why do you think you're superior? You know, such inferior theology, blah, blah, blah. I didn't do that this time. Instead, I looked at him as my brother. Okay. He is another sentient being. He is another soul. He is another manifestation of Buddha nature. He is my brother.
So in this moment, what is my opportunity? Because it is either to learn from or to give to or to cooperate with, and sometimes all three. So I realized, ah, this is an opportunity for me to be able to share something with him. So I thought, well, he is not going to listen to anything I have to say about Buddha. He might listen to something I have to say from his point of view, which is Christian language. So I started talking about the possibility of believing in a more inclusive understanding of Jesus Christ, rather than exclusive, just to kind of give him a little seed thought to think about. Maybe believing in Jesus Christ doesn't necessarily mean everyone else is going to hell. You know? Maybe there is a much more inclusive understanding of that.
So anyway, I shared that with him, and I think that he had some reflections on that. So we will see. But something I realized last year, a year ago, I was meditating with my friend in California. We were watching the sunset. I had this realization when I'd gone to a monastery a few days before that. I realized, oh, my mission here is not to lead people from point A to point C. Never ever is that part of my mission. It is just from point A to point B or from C to D or from H to I, right? That is all. You don't need to commit to convert anybody from being where they're at all the way opposite to what they are. Just to see where they are at, accept where they're at, and then just see if there is something that you can say or do that might help mentor them one step in the right direction. That is all.
So, I don't need to convert everybody to Buddhism. I can just encourage a Christian to be a more mindful Christian, a more inclusive Christian, or whatever. So, I realized, okay that puts a lot less pressure on me. I don't have to save the whole world. I just have to just see where people are at and be with them and lovingly, gently encourage them just one step in the right direction, whatever that is for them.
So, we have our elder brothers and sisters that we want to receive from. We have our younger brothers and sisters that we want to be able to give to and to help encourage them. But to do that, we have to understand them. We don't preach at them. We come in solidarity with understanding. And once you have understanding, then you can use upaya, skillful creative means, to then communicate in a way that actually will be effective. Because if you just blurt something, even if the words you say are right, if they can't hear it, it is completely useless words. It is not about just having right doctrine or right words. It is about communication. Are you getting through or not? If you're not getting through, it doesn't even matter how much right doctrine you use or how much right belief or right understanding you're having. It won't matter for them.
So, that is what we want is to be able to help each other, help our younger brothers and sisters with love, without a superiority complex. But we also have our brothers and sisters who are also part of our team, who are more or less our peers, and I believe doubt one of our missions is to find our peers in this lifetime and learn how to make community with them, learn how to team up together, to share the light in the world. And so, that is what we are doing as a sangha here. We are learning how to team up with each other. We are learning how to let our different unique synergize together. This is important because the sangha is not a Lone Ranger spirituality practice.
Sangha means community. And it's not always easy because there is sometimes friction between members and misunderstandings or whatever, but that is okay, because as we keep staying with the community building and get through the tough times, you start learning how to really be a team member. I know that is one of my challenges, for example. Because I tend to like to do things alone, but I am always being presented by the universe opportunities to not do things alone and having to work with people all the time. The universe has a sense of humor. So it does encourage me to learn how to work on a team with others rather than just doing it all by myself. So that is good. So, that is one of the revelations I had, receive from and respect/honor our elder brothers and sisters, skillfully be of encouragement to our younger brothers and sisters in the world, and to really work through and become a true community with our peers, a spiritual community. That's it. You don't need to save the whole world. Really that's all you have to do is just these three things. Everything else will take care of itself.
Actually, one insight I had these last couple of weeks also was that we are actually each born into the situation that we are supposed to be born into, no matter how weird it looks, all right? But we really are. We are born into this situation that will be of maximum benefit for our particular spiritual blessings that we're meant to learn, okay? And of course, if it's a really horrific situation, it may not even be just because you're trying to learn a lesson, but that you are there to give other's opportunities to learn how to be compassionate, you know? So at least there is some benefit somewhere. But I really do believe that now. I know that in my heart.
So, I don't need to convert every body to one way, because the reason why they are born into that particular culture or situation is because that is what they needed to learn through and growth through. Even if objectively it is like the opposite of truth, even if someone is born into a religion that I just think is so opposite to the truth, I cannot judge that because that particular brother or sister of mine is being born into that situation for a reason, so that either they can learn from the paradox of trying to find the truth within a system that is so opposite the truth or that they are going to shed light in that system of truth. You see?
I kind of believe that. You know, if you believe in reincarnation, think about it. Maybe there are a lot of our elder brothers and sisters who are reborn on the planet, but they are not being reborn as Buddhists. Maybe they get reborn in all the other religions so they spread the awareness of compassion and wisdom using the particular different languages of the different cultures, rather than just Buddhism. See? That is pretty genius, don't you think? But it is kind of tough, too, because they love the Buddha, but they're not in a situation where they know the Buddha directly, but they have it in their heart, and so they share that light in their other religions. I mean, that is one way of looking at it.
So now I am more at peace with my life as it is. I'm at peace with the fact that I'm going through cancer right now. I'm at peace with having the evangelical Christian family that I grew up in. I'm at peace with a lot of things now because I realize this is what I am working with. It maximizes my learning experience because it's not perfection that is the goal. The learning and growing that is the goal. You see the difference? It's not trying to figure out what is the best religion in the world. It is whatever truth you have, work with that and utilize it to bring about wisdom and compassion and feel empowered. And you can do that in any kind of context. It is not about religion. See, most of my life, I was always focused on I have to have the right religion, the right belief. Even in Buddhism, it is like, I have to have the right lineage. I have to have the right teachers. I would make myself go mentally just stressed out with these thoughts. It's like no, no, no. That's not the point.
You don't win a prize just because you found the right religion. No. You don't win anything for having the right religion. What the universe will tell you is whatever truth that you do understand in whatever religious or cultural contexts, are you utilizing it to grow in wisdom and compassion and being of service to others? And that is what really matters. It doesn't matter what lingo or doctrines or belief systems you use. As long as that is happening, it is truly spiritual growth and service. So now I am more at peace. Because I used to think, I wish I was born into a nice Buddhist family so I wouldn't have to deal with always just having this conflict, but you know what?
What is interesting is this conflict with my family has produced a lot of understanding in me. This conflict in my family has produced a lot of mental growth in me to understand paradox. And it has also helped me learn how to communicate Buddhist principles to other people of other religious traditions in a more effective way because I understand different languages, different spiritual languages.
So, one other thing I want to share before I get my message—I guess this is all my message—is one of the things I am practicing with is I am doing my best to heal from cancer, but so far everything I've done outwardly doesn't seem to have done anything effective enough for my recovery. However, I am practicing with this paradox that even if it probably looks like everything I've done so far hasn't quite worked the way I had hoped, yes, still keeping my practice throughout it all and realizing that nothing is ever actually wasted. One way I did this to remind myself of this was there was one patient at the clinic in Mexico. She was kind of worried that her tumor was still not shrinking, just like mine was not shrinking, and she was so despondent and so depressed.
We had met two months before when we had done our first round of treatment, and we were there that same week for our second round of treatment. We both had bad news from our scans that the tumors had grown. So I was like, you know what? I took her aside one morning. I said, "May I pray with you?" I didn't know if I could pray with anybody else because I didn't know what the religious understandings of the other people were. They had enough Christian support at the clinic, but I knew that Alexis was much more Buddhist in her approach, much more interfaith. She didn't really feel as if anybody at the hospital could understand where she was coming from, so she didn't ask them for prayer. I realized I am there for a reason right now with her, so I can pray with her. So I offered that, and she said "Oh, yes. Please."
So I did. I did a prayer that was very universal, interfaith, Buddhist-oriented, and she got a lot of comfort in that. And I felt comforted that I could just pray with another sister instead of just being all worried about myself and, just to be of service. Because I'm in the situation for some reason, so I might as well utilize it for service, right? And this year, I realized I had all these dreams. I wanted to live longer so that I could write a best-selling book and be on Oprah, a big temple and thousands of mindful students or whatever. But I realized, you know what? Maybe my purpose, my mission in this particular life wasn't to do all that but just to reach one person at a time, just one person at a time. So I don't have to save the whole world. I can just be with a brother or sister in that here and now moment. So that is what I did.
And I said something to her at the end of our prayer. I said, "Alexis, I don't know what is going to happen for you or for me, but for some reason I don't heal physically, even though I do believe that I am healing spiritually, but I want to offer all the merit, all the positive benefit of everything that I've done so far to heal, I want to offer it to you." And that is been my attitude this year. So yes, maybe all of this stuff that I have done so far doesn't seem to be working on the physical level or at least outwardly it looks like that. Who knows? But that is okay. It is not that it is a waste. It is not wasted at all. All of my treatment, all the money you guys have helped me to spend on my treatments. My family has spent over $50,000 to help me because insurance doesn't cover the alternative things, and next I'm going to do proton radiation in San Diego. Thank God insurance helps cover that.
But I don't know if the alternative or the conventional stuff is going to work. I don't know. I have no idea. But it's not a waste. And all the spiritual prayers and all the spiritual practices, it's not a waste. I can always offer it to others so that someone else can heal. In fact, I noticed that three or four people who have come to the Center this year that have cancer, too, every single one of them has been healed of their cancer. So who knows? If I'm not, that's okay. At least everybody is. Our practice is it just for ourselves. It is for everyone. And so I am glad. If I don't heal physically, I am glad that my spiritual practice can be of benefit for healing others. So that is one other lesson I have learned this year, that nothing is wasted that I do. Nothing is ever wasted.
So that leads us to the message today, which I'm going to have to do in like three minutes, which is all about balance. You know, how do we work with the balance of opposites? For example, I truly believe in both interfaith approach to spirituality as well as a specific practice of spirituality. It is kind of like a circle and dots in the center, so the center dot represents a particular tradition, teacher, lineage, practice going very deep, and the circle represents being open-minded, openhearted, realizing that truth is universal. But the balance is how do you focus on a particular teacher, lineage, practice, tradition, spiritual community without becoming fundamentalist and exclusive? Right? But if you only practice the universal, interfaith, everything I do and everything and the world is spiritual and all of that, how do you have this openhearted universal kind of understanding without getting wishy-washy and doing nothing? You know, all paths lead to God, so my lazy no path will also lead to God.
But see, both are true. This is the paradox of truth. It is true that all paths lead to the one. It is true that truth is universal and interfaith, and it is also true that for you to effectively use your time on earth in a lifetime, which who knows how many years or decades you have? You need to focus. It is important to focus, to do your practice diligently, whether it is meditation practice, yoga practice, qi gong practice, charity practice, chanting practice, community practice, whatever. Just do it and do it consistently. It is important to go deep. Otherwise, you're just digging lots of little wells that never go deep to the water. Just a little dabble of this and a little of that. I mean, I don't mind doing that to the extent of course because I do that all the time. I love to learn about different things. I do. In fact, you get a whole experience of that in one setting, right? But at the same time, you have to go deep into one or two or three practices that really are strong foundations for you. So be careful.
But at the same time, I cringe whenever I meet fellow who just practitioners who are considered Buddhist fundamentalists because I don't like their attitude. They think that their particular lineage tradition and practice is the best way or the only way or whatever. I don't buy that. I think it works for them, but there might be other religions or practices or traditions that might work better for others. I think that people who think that their particular lineage is the perfect way, I think it's dangerous because it could lead to exclusivism and they can give you blind spots to the parts of your tradition that might not be quite true. Because let me tell you, from my many years of trying to find the perfect religion, I realized all religions are imperfect by nature. So it doesn't matter that your particular practice or community is imperfect. It is supposed to be that way. Just utilize it the best you can for wisdom, compassion, and service. That is what matters.
So, balance. And you know, I find this balance also is true in medical healing. You know, my journey this year has all been about figuring the way to heal through the paradox of what is available. There is the very strict almost fundamentalist conventional Western doctors who have one particular training and point of view, and then there is also a variety of different alternative views, too, all kinds. And it is confusing. One of the things I'm learning through this process is that it is creating compassion in me because it is confusing to me. I can't imagine how confusing it is to everyone else, you know? Who do you listen to? Who has the truth?
Well, I think that is why the universe has made the situation for me that I have to rely on both. So I rely on the alternative as well as the conventional and integrated. And even though they sometimes tell each other they don't think they are right, that is the path that seems to be the path that I am choosing. And I am trusting that somehow the two worlds help each other. So I will do the conventional approach and the alternative, and I hope that they help each other. Even though they may argue separately that they're going to kill you, I think that together they can really be more helpful than not. That is what I believe. It's a paradox of opposites, you know.
So I want to share this message to the conventional Western medical people: Please be more open-minded and learn from the alternatives, because conventional used to be alternative before it became conventional, so keep an open mind, you know? Your patients' lives are at stake. And at the same time I want to tell the alternative people, "Please realize how confusing it is for patients and try to emphasize education." Because there are so many different alternative viewpoints that it is really confusing to figure out who to listen to. So ask questions and learn how to globally educate people on your particular viewpoint so that patients can make a wise choice on their own, because it is really confusing. So have compassion. Try to speak in such a way that you really communicate well.
And then I also want to share the young adults and the older adults in this community here at the Dallas Meditation Center, I hope that you all help each other. The young adult sangha is very strong on Tuesday nights. I'm grateful that they are there, but they are very strong. They really socialize with each other, and they plan things together. They lead themselves. I'm very proud of them. They do their own camping trips and retreats and things like that. That is great, and that is why I hope that this will happen with the older adults, although older adults, usually we have our own families to deal with and all that stuff. So I know it is a different demographic, but I hope that you will be more of a team and not just rely on your teachers. And the young adults, I hope that you will be there for the older adults, too, and just help the older adults so that we have all ages.
Because now it is 7:00, and we need to close, let's just do a quick sharing with someone next to you… [audio fades as sharing time begins]