I just want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me through this process. It has been over a year, right? And I know some people may get healed within a month or maybe longer than me, and I was reflecting on why is it taking over a year to fully heal, but I have to remember that this is not just about my physical health. It also has to do with my spiritual health. And at least on the spiritual side of things, I really believe that I have been given an opportunity to use this as an opportunity for me to really, really deeply get the impermanence of life and death and to really learn how to just let go of all the stuff that doesn't matter in life and to really focus on the things that do matter in life and to appreciate life today. No matter how many todays you get in the future, life is today.
So maybe there is a part of me that is pretty stubborn. It could take me a little longer to learn these lessons. And it's not necessarily that these lessons are being forced on me or anything. I'm just saying that you can use anything that is going on in your life as an opportunity to learn something. You can. Okay? It's not necessarily the universe punishing you or karma punishing you or God punishing you or you punishing yourself. It is just an opportunity to learn something through anything you go through.
And then that way when you have that attitude, everything becomes so much easier. It is not necessarily going to not be difficult, because life does have its difficulties, but wouldn't it be more difficult if you have the attitude of you're being punished, rather than the attitude of what can I learn and grow through with this? How can I make the world a better place even though this is happening? That is a much better attitude, I think, that will bring out a little bit more light than not.
But of course, life has so many mysteries, doesn't it? We don't always know why things happen. But you don't always have to know why. If you can just simply practice mindfully through each and every moment, you can live into the questions. You don't always have to have the answers right away. Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers, and I think this is what the Zen masters mean when they talk about don't know mind, being open to the mystery and not being so rigid on our explanations of things.
Of course, the reason why humans do that is because they are scared and they want comfort, but sometimes we need to learn how to be in the midst of the fear and the uncertainty and the questions. That is what really makes us stronger. If you just give a pat answer to everything, it might comfort you temporarily, but it is not going to necessarily really deeply benefit you.
I am also having to take again the alternative chemotherapy pills, low dose, so that might also be affecting some of my mind. But you know, I'm used to it.
So I am going to talk about a few things, and I'm going to say them right now so that I don't forget. Then you can help me. You can remind me that I forgot to mention something. So I would like to talk about my experience with the acupuncturist. I want to go over my views on religion, especially Buddha and Jesus and others, and maybe the eight stages on the path of enlightenment, and then if you have questions, you can ask them also, and I can try to address them if I can.
So, I guess I will start with my views on religion. I don't call myself a Buddhist. I call myself an interfaith Buddhist, and if I am with my Christian friends, I call myself an interfaith Christian. So why do I not call myself a Buddhist only? Why do I call myself an interfaith Buddhist? And then again, on the other side of this issue, why don't I just call myself an interfaith person without a second word like Buddhist or Christian? Well, my reason is that I think you need both to have a healthy balance in your spiritual life.
If you're only just interfaith, there is a chance that it might not be a deep enough practice for you. It is kind of like saying, "Well everything is okay." But then is it? You know, not all teachings in every religion are equally helpful to humans. We need to be more discerning than that. So I do believe in universal truth. And at the same time, because I don't have a lot of years to live this lifetime, it is hard to practice everything in every religion. I don't have the time or the energy to do that, so I have to choose a focus to ground me in a particular practice that helps others and me.
So in my own journey in life, I grew up Christian, and I chose to add Buddhism as a main path for me. I still consider Christianity a path for me also, but I really have benefited so much in having Buddhism as a main path that is also open minded and understands there is truth in all religions.
But see, if you're only just Buddhist, for example, sometimes you miss out on the clarifications that may come from other ideas and other sources of truth, and you can become dogmatic and rigid. I have found this a lot, especially in my Christian upbringing, since Christ is the only Son of God, the only Messiah, the only way. Most people in those traditions will not even study the other ways, so they miss out a lot, I think. I believe that Christ is a good path for some or many, but I think it is not helpful to have this idea of only.
But again, I understand why that happens in religion, because I had an experience in a monastery where I had practiced for a long time, and then I suddenly had this insight that just filled my whole being, and I understood why religions do that. It is because religion, if it is going to survive for centuries, has two main elements. One is the core essential truth that it's presenting to the world, but the second part is the preservative aspect, without which they would be killed off or destroyed.
So most religions have a part that is the core, beautiful truth, and they also have the preservative, the things in the religion that say they are the best way or the only way or the right way or that they are a divinely inspired way. They need this because, you know, if you're competing with other tribes or religions around you who say that their God is the real God, you can't just say, "Well, our God might be a good God." They would just be killed off so easily. No one would follow them. No one would listen to them. So unfortunately, that is the human reality, that we need both aspects for religions to survive for centuries, especially in the past when our ancestors were very violent—which I don't know if they were more violent than we are today, but they were very violent back then. And for beautiful truth to survive, it needed some protection, preservative.
But today it is our responsibility now to unpack the religion of your choice, to keep the core truth and get rid of the preservatives. Because preservatives are going to poison you if you focus just on that, and unfortunately, many religions today focus more on the preservatives than on the core beautiful truth. I mean, you can't get your spiritual nutrition from the preservatives. I'm sorry. You can't. And that is why things are the way they are, I believe, in religion today. But I do believe that there is hope, because I do believe that this generation and the next generation are learning how to find the core beautiful truth and put aside the preservatives of our ancestors.
So, in other words, I don't believe that any religion is perfect. That is why I entitled this talk "The Perfectly Imperfect Teachings of the Buddha, Jesus, and Everyone Else," because a lot of the parts of religion have to be the preservative part. In Christianity, Jesus is the only Son of God, the divine Messiah, the one way. And in Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha is the fully enlightened one, the only one in the thousands of years of this era on the earth, and being the fully enlightened one, that means no one else can be as fully enlightened as him during this time period until the next Buddha comes. But I don't believe either of these thoughts. I believe that was the part that was made up to preserve the religion, because if they didn't say this, who would follow them? And who would protect them from the soldiers?
So we need to learn how to appreciate and receive their teachings without getting caught up in the preservatives. And honestly, in my own spiritual practice, the insights that I have received so many of, I know in my heart that there is a reason why there is no such thing as the perfect religion on earth. It is not meant to be. So do not try too hard to find the perfect religion, because you're going to be looking for a long time. The reason why it is being allowed to not have a perfect religion or perfect dogma, perfect teaching, or perfect anything is because this particular plane of existence is a school where we learn how to be with the unknown, the uncertain, the mystery. And we are being trained to respond mindfully in this situation.
So I imagine it this way, that our angels, guides, and bodhisattvas, they are kind of helping us but watching us also, to see what we are going to do. So what do you do when you have one religion, and your neighbor has another religion? It is a test, but it is not a test about who has the better religion. It is a test on how you react with differences and diversity.
Same thing with the gay and straight issue and all of that. It actually does not matter about being gay or straight or whatever, whether you agree or disagree with all of that. They are watching to see how you react. Do you react violently? Do you react rejecting others? Can you learn how to love somebody even though you do not understand them or agree with them? That is what really matters. This is the school of love here on earth.
I am learning this lesson even in my own family situation. I have Southern Baptist family members, and I am an interfaith Buddhist and other things. But you know, I have to say I am very proud of my family and myself because over the years we have learned how to love each other and help each other and not reject each other despite our differences.
Now I would like to share something personal, as I have been going through the cancer healing journey last year. I was really not feeling very well at all this week, especially on Thursday, I believe it was. I was feeling a little bit better on Friday after I had asked Facebook friends to pray for me. And I asked them to do five practices that I normally can do when I have energy: 5 minutes of prostrations, 10 minutes of chanting a mantra, 20 or more minutes of meditation, and I usually sing or dance just for 5 minutes or sometimes longer to the song "Overcomer" by Mandisa. If you haven't heard that, it is an excellent song, and especially the video is so encouraging. Sorry if I don't have the energy to dance or sing it. And then 10 to 20 minutes or more of mindful exercise. I also have other practices that I sometimes do, like journal writing and other things, but anyway, these are the things I do usually every day when I have the energy, and this could be yoga or qi gong or just the simple walking outside in nature. It is so helpful to be outside in nature amidst all the beauty of the earth.
So I had no energy to do any of this, especially on Thursday, but I remembered the spiritual principle that since we are not separate selves, that our true nature is the nature of nonself, and that we are all interconnected, interrelated, which is the truth of the interbeing—when I remembered that, I realized, oh, of course. I can ask other people to practice on my behalf. So that's what I did, and a lot of people did respond that they did either all or some or one of them for me, so I got them all covered.
And to do this, you need to first make the intention that you are going to do this practice not for yourself, but for someone else. You can say a prayer if you wish at the beginning of it, and during it, stay mindful to remember that you are not doing this for your benefit at all, only for the benefit of someone else that you are sending the merit to. And then at the end of the practice, just simply pray a prayer of blessing and send all the positive merit to the other person and not for yourself.
But here's a secret. You still get a lot of merit from that practice because you did it selflessly. So anything you do that is selfless always brings you positive merit, spiritual energy, and then on Friday, I had a little bit more energy, and so I was able to do three prostrations, 5 minutes of chanting in a whisper, and 15 minutes of meditation. And that was all the energy I had to do that on Friday, that morning. And you know what I did? I dedicated all the merit to those who practiced on my behalf. I didn't keep any of it for myself because I didn't need to. They did it for me, so I gave it back to them. Tag. You're it!
But that is the wonderful thing about our practice. Spirituality sometimes confounds mathematics, doesn't it? Everything is one. Everything is many. Everything is unity. Everything is diversity. I suppose that is a higher mathematics. And honestly, I'm going to tell you a little secret. I not only did this for myself, but it was my sneaky bodhisattva way of getting people to practice more diligently. Because sometimes people are lazy when it comes to practicing something for themselves, but if they hear that they can practice for someone else, it might be just the motivation they need to practice. So I kind of sneakily did that to encourage more people to practice. (Laughs)
Well, I'm going to postpone the eight stages on the path of enlightenment—because that is a long teaching—until the next time on May 17, when I will definitely be back. I may be back next week also. I'm not sure yet, but I'm doing the radiation in Houston Monday through Friday, and I might be able to come back on weekends—some weekends, like May 17 for sure and possibly next week. I don't know yet. But the gist of the eight stages on the path to enlightenment is that there are five parts that are preliminary long path and about three parts that are final short path, which basically means there are two aspects on the path of enlightenment. One is effort, and the other is effortlessness. And that is your hint for next time.
And one last thing I will share because I didn't finish sharing about it. Friday evening or late afternoon, I was able to get an appointment to see my acupuncturist because I really needed some help, and so I had someone drive me to the clinic in Plano, and I went in. And during the hour session, I am just laying there with needles. I can't really get up or do anything, so I try to meditate while I am sitting there or lying down there with needles stuck all over me.
But then about halfway through, I started to just think about things—you know, shopping list and other stuff. And then all of a sudden, I felt an energy or a presence by my feet, almost like somebody was trying to lift them. I thought the doctor had come in to take out the needles, but there was no one there. And I instantly knew what it meant. It was my angel, guide, or bodhisattva, or whatever reminding me, please go back to meditation because you need to. I need to. If I'm going to have healing, I need to meditate while I am there.
So I focused on a blue healing light, which was a mental vision I had a couple of weeks before that at the acupuncturist. Suddenly at the very end of the acupuncture session, I suddenly had this very strong vision—mental vision—of this beautiful blue light with swirling arms or whatever, tentacles, rays, with sparks of white light. And it came in front of my face, and it sent the rays like tentacles into my forehead and was sucking out the cancer cells. It was such a beautiful image. And I really do believe it came from something higher, whatever you want to label it. I was actually chanting at that time the Medicine Buddha mantra, so I associated it with the Medicine Buddha. I believe that Medicine Buddha came to me, or at least one of his assistants, and helped me with this image to use in my meditations, which I now use.
So I am very grateful that no matter what happens, we always have help and assistance, even if we cannot see them, and we are never alone. Sometimes the point of something is not the problem or issue. It is how you get through it, how you react, how you respond. That is what really matters.
Thank you so much for your practice.