Practice to awaken for myself
Pages InformationWriter admin Date20 Dec 2005 Read14,092 Comment0
I am glad to see all of you here at Jakwangsa today. I know it is not an easy thing to come on your day off, but all of us, at some point, inside, realize there is something more we have to do. There is something more than our daily work, our daily lives. There is something more than our jobs. There is something more than having a good time. This thing we all each one of us feels, in Buddhism we call it, ‘Fundamental Mind,’ sometimes it’s called our foundation, sometimes our essence, our true nature, our Juingong, the true doer, etc. and it’s this thing we have to know. It’s this thing we are born on this earth to know. This is where we have to rely upon.
In Korean, we use the word, ‘안식처(安息處)’ which means a place of refuge, a place of safety, my foundation. This is where I came from. This is where I return to. This is the most important thing for us to know. It’s a treasure beyond words, a treasure beyond price. It can’t be replaced with anything else, no matter what. The reason why people feel unsatisfied, quite often, with their daily lives, is because they are focusing all their energy on something else. They are focusing all their energy on making a living, on family, on earning money, maybe fame, maybe school, to the extent that they are forgetting their foundation. Because they don’t pay attention to their foundation, they begin to feel lonely. They begin to feel sad. No matter how much energy you spend on something outside of yourself, soon or later that thing changes, soon or later that thing, that person goes away, and we’re left feeling dissatisfied. What we truly need to do is to learn how to return to our foundation, how to uncover our foundation. It is really quite simple. We just have to rely on it. We just have to remember it that it’s there, instead of trying to use our own cleverness; instead of trying to get out of our situation with our thoughts, with excuses or with other ideas. If we entrust and let go of everything back to our foundation, the solution comes out. Sometimes it comes out as an idea of our own. Sometimes the situation resolves itself naturally.
We all have this incredible source of ability within us. But we have to know it’s there and we have to try to use it. And it’s like using a microphone or using a lock, until you experiment with it and see how it works, you might have a trouble with it the first time or the second time. As you begin to play with it, as you begin to see how it works, you begin to understand its importance in our daily life. When we understand this, we realize that we’re all connected everything single thing in the universe through this foundation. This is our footing in this world. This is our foundation. This is where I return to. When I understand that I am connected every single thing, automatically my behavior becomes in accord with the precepts. Automatically I keep order in society. Automatically I treat my family and friends better. Because I understand now that they are nothing other than myself.
All of the teachings of innumerable, great Seon masters, of great practitioners of the Dharma, the Buddha, all of his disciples, all of them are aimed at one thing, ‘awaken for yourself.’ You are the one who has to do this. You are the one who has to deepen your spiritual level. The other day I used the example of a recipe, all of these books, all of these teachings are like a recipe, and our daily life is the ingredients. But no matter how well we can recite the recipe, no matter how well we have the recipe memorized, until we actually apply it, until we actually try to cook, until we try to use it, we still don’t really have the food. We have raw vegetables or other ingredients. But it’s not really a meal until we put it into practice, until we cook it, and until we turn it into real food it won’t really benefit us. And this kind of food, the Dharma food doesn’t benefit us alone. It benefits everybody around us. It benefits the whole country. It benefits the whole society. It benefits the whole universe.
In the evening ceremony, we have a part of ceremony, it says, ‘fragrance of precepts, fragrance of meditation, fragrance of wisdom,’ which are ‘계향, 정향, 혜향’. This fragrance is mind. If you meet somebody who practices very diligently, you don’t know why but when you are near them, you feel better. This mind of ours is like incense. It is very subtle. You can’t see it but you can just get a whiff of it. You can get a sense of something, that something is there. This is what you feel around people who practice sincerely. Like this, our mind affects everyone around us, for good or bad. If we live a very upright life, then even as we walk down the street, without any thought of doing it, without any intention of doing it, we give a good influence to the people we pass. We give a good influence to people we meet. We give a good influence to people who come into our store. Likewise, if we were not practicing well, if we are not living our lives as well as we should be, we can spread confusion or we can spread ill-will among people around us. This unseen mind we have is the foundation through which we’re all connected. You can compare it to electricity. You don’t see the electricity coming and going. But when I flip on the switch here, the light comes on over there. Something is connecting. Something is going back and forth. Our whole purpose here is to awaken to that, is to realize that inherent oneness of everything. As I said before, it is more precious than anything else. It’s such a bad trade to abandon it for money, or for fame, or for other people’s approval. It’s just a terrible thing to do to yourself.
All of the Seon masters, all used different methods make us realize this. Sometimes, if you look at the records of the Seon masters, you can see them trying different expressions, trying different ways of explaining something, and each time they were trying to express this. If I say this, then do you understand? No, o.k.! If I say it like this, then do you understand? They are trying so hard to get us to realize this for ourselves, but we have to make that step on putting it into the practice. Most of people, when they come to the temple, they have some idea of what they have to do, but actually doing it is the effort we have to make. But a great thing about this practice, a great thing about learning to discover my own inherent nature is that as I begin to experiment with it, as I begin to understand how it works, it teaches me which way I have to go. I can sit here speak all day to you, I can speak for 10 days, and there’ll still be something I couldn’t cover. Nobody can tell you about every little detail. Nobody can tell you about every little thing. But when you practice for yourself, you begin, find these things out. All of these things will become clear to you.
Somebody asked me yesterday, “What if I let go of everything that confronts me, won’t I become like a rock or stone? Won’t I become some sort of an emotionless person?” And that’s a really good question, because at first you might think so. But actually in reality it is quite the opposite, because you discover your connection with everyone else. You become more aware of how other people feel. You become more aware of what’s important to them. You become more aware of how your words affect them, how your attitude or how your expression affects other people. And so, I actually become a better sunim. I become a better son. I become a better daughter. I become a better parent.
I believe it was the Chinese Chan (禪) master, Linchi (임제종사) who said, “I don’t teach anything, I just untie knots.” And what I think he meant by that was that if I just rely upon my own foundation, what I have to do becomes clear to me. How I have to practice becomes clear to me, the only problem is that my own habits, my own tendencies sabotage me. There are a lot of habits that we’ve developed over eons that hurt our spiritual level. They cut us off from other people. They break that understanding; they imprison us, they keep us from realizing our connectedness with all other people and from realizing our fundamental mind. And this is especially true of thoughts like ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’. ‘This is mine.’ As soon as I say, “This is mine,” it’s not somebody else’s. They don’t have it. I alone have it. And right there I set up the dualism. Right there I cut myself off from that person. One of the most destructive things what we can do is to blame other people for things happen to us. ‘It’s not my fault. It is their fault.’ You can see it happening because you can see if you blame other people, watch how you feel, you feel the effect, you see the result. I think it’s because, again, we are cutting ourselves off. We’re trying to reduce the other person, who we are fundamentally connected with. Another aspect of that is criticizing other people, finding faults, and trying to point out weaknesses.
Sometimes it seems to me that this comes from the habits of our evolution, trying to be better than somebody else. If we can’t be better than them, then we have to beat them down, we have to dominate them, we have to control them, or try to. If we are offended by them, we try to hurt them by saying something vicious or saying something critical. And when we were evolving, when we lived as animals, it was our bodies that were attacked, it was our bodies were eaten, and it was with our bodies that we fought, but nowadays when we reached this human level, it’s as if our spirit is being attacked. And although this habit may have worked somewhat when we were evolving from animals, now we have reached the level of human beings, we have to evolve a higher level. These kinds of habits aren’t helpful to us. We have to let go of this habit in order to continue our spiritual evolution.
One of the most important things we can do in our practice is to pay attention, is to observe, and is to watch what is going on around me. Setting aside all the other reasons, if I am going to experiment with what’s happening, I have to be paying attention in order to see the result. I have to be paying attention when I do something in order to know what I did and to know what led to a certain result. There is something about just paying attention. It’s as if it allows our fundamental mind to take care of things. It lets our fundamental mind dissolve the things we are facing. This inherent power of our foundation, of our true nature, is just so incredible. So we have to give it a chance. When we are practicing or when we are trying to develop or trying to learn, we have to experiment with what we understand. We have to try to put it into practice. We have to try to apply it. As we do this, we get experiences. As we do this, we will achieve different levels of understanding. A certain thing will be clear to us, and with this, it gives rise to faith. This faith gives us energy to keep practicing, and like this our strength and faith become stronger and stronger.
But one point to be careful about is that we also have to let go of the things we experience. We have to let go of the things we understand and the things that we don’t understand. If I cling to the things I experience, then it gives to rise back to the duality, it cuts me off from my foundation. Because we fall back into “I like this” “I don’t like that.” “I want to hold onto this experience and I don’t want it to go away.” “If I forget about it, it goes away and then it’s gone. It will never come back,” and this kind of fear actually inhabits us, this kind of fear blocks us. This clinging blocks us. As long as we are trying to recreate the same experience, as long as I am trying to live in the same state all the time, I can’t move forward to a new state and I can’t move forward to new experiences.
A lot of Seon masters have compared the idea of spiritual practice to the idea of dying, because letting go is really like dying. You have to let go of the things you like. You have to let go of the things you are scared of. You have to let of the things you hope for the future. We have to trust our foundation will take care of things. You trust that a new result will come out. You know, some people die very peacefully and very at ease, and other people die kicking and screaming all the way up to the last minute. Do we let go of things peacefully, with faith, or do we stubbornly cling to them?
I mentioned this the other day but the things we experience are like a key to a door at a certain time. They are like a key to the next step, something I have to move beyond and something I have to resolve from my past. If I try to cling to that, if I don’t let go of that … The other day I compared it to a fish. The first day the fish is really wonderful and fresh, but if I stick into my pocket and carry around, after a few days it’s going to begin to stink. It’s going to give off some pretty bad smells. Likewise, if I don’t let go of the things I think I know or the things I have experienced, they’ll give rise to arrogance, they’ll give rise to pride and the idea that I know more than this person. And these are the things that will hinder us, but when we let go of these, we can really progress in our spiritual practice.
The first spiritual leader of the Jogye Order, Han Ahm Sunim said in a letter that before you become enlightened, practice is relatively easy because you know what you have to do, you know what your goal is, but after you become enlightened, it is harder because your goal is not so clear. And so no matter where we are in our practice, we always have to keep letting go of where we think we are and we have to keep letting go of what we experience.
This one life time we have, that we share together is a truly precious opportunity. To be born in a Buddhist country or to be born in a place where people still practice the teachings of the Buddha is precious beyond belief. If you are close to something and it’s always been all of your life, it is easy to take for a granted. It is easy to look upon it casually. But trust me, as someone who was born in a country where there wasn’t much Buddhism, you have a precious opportunity. I hope that everybody makes the most of it. Where I grew up in the United States, if somebody wanted a moktak or if somebody wanted a yumju, you had to open a mail order catalog, send your money away and then in a few weeks, it come back to you. It’s that hard just to get a yumju. Trying to find a good translation of a Seon master’s teachings is so much harder. When I first came to Korea, and even still, I loved walking down the street in front of the Jogye Temple. There are more yumju’s and moktaks there than I knew existed in the world, right there in front of the Jogye Temple. Somehow it made me feel happy to see all that in one place. It gets really easy to take the things around us for the granted, to take the people around us for granted and to take our circumstances for granted. But while we are able to, while our living conditions are relatively comfortable, we really have to apply ourselves.
Sometimes I noticed when I had the most difficulties, when I had the most hardships, that was when I learned the most. And then when I don’t have those hardships and when I don’t have those difficulties, that’s when I really have to work and apply what I have learned. That’s when I have to try to put it into practice.
It is easy to think of these things as big problems. “I have to let go of the thought of ‘I’.” “I have to overcome this,” and we do, but at the same time we should know that those aren’t real things anyway. They are like shadows. Once we let go of them, once we dissolve them, they just disappear like fog on a sunny day. Don’t think too much. Don’t worry about these too much. Don’t fall into a habit of thinking, “I have to let go my delusions. I have to let go of my fantasies.” If you recognize what you’ve been doing, if that thought occurs, recognize it, look at it and then let go of that, too. Once you input a thought into your foundation, through our foundation that thought spreads out through all the lives in our body. All together they provide the solution. All together they make those things to happen.
You can make a pretty good comparison between our foundation and children. If we just trust our foundation, saying “okay, you can do it.” “My Buddha nature is taking care of everything. My true nature is taking care of everything.” And calmly, with trust and faith knowing that it will be taken care of, entrust those things. If we do this, things turn out quite well. But if we worry and keep poking at it, ‘Why isn’t working? Why isn’t working? It doesn’t work! It won’t work.’, then it’s like we aren’t giving it a chance to do its job. You tell somebody to go do something, and before he or she can step out of the door, you call them and say do it this way and make these changes. Before they can leave again, you grab them keep telling them to do something else. How will the work ever get done this way?
In a lot of ways children are like that. If we keep pushing kids too hard all the time, “you’ve got to study,” “you’ve got to study!” It is really hard for kids to develop. There are a lot of times you have to give kids a bit of leeway, a little bit of freedom. Say, “do your best!” and leave them alone. I actually sometimes worry about the kids in Korea, that they get so much stress and at such a young age that it doesn’t seem like all of the kids are able to handle that well. Kids are like flowers. Some bloom in the spring and some bloom in the fall. If you try to make them all bloom in the spring, then you’ll end up breaking the ones bloom in the fall. I really hope that everybody will think about that. Also the most precious thing you can leave your kids isn’t the house, it isn’t an inheritance, and it isn’t a pile of money, it’s the knowledge of their own true nature. It’s the habit of always relying upon their true nature. You know, you don’t have to tell your kids a lot about that if you are practicing yourself. Kids are really sharp. Some people say kids learn the most from how their parents treat them but I would argue that kids learn the most from seeing how their parents treat each other and how their parents treat other people. If you are practicing sincerely, your children also will develop quite well. Children also pick up on that. Just a little bit of guidance and a few words in the right direction, and children will learn about this practice, too.
It could be that the television people are getting worrying about my long pauses, but it is always good to go back inside before we do something. It is always good to check back inside before we speak: “What do I really need to say? What do I really need to do? How do I need to do this?” One of the easiest ways to get yourself into a trouble is just to react to something when it happens, just to respond without reflecting inside. But if we turn back inside, if we watch back inside, a lot of solutions come out or the problems are resolved naturally. It also gives us chance to become aware of a better way or a different way of looking at things.
This mind, this foundation, this fundamental nature we have is really the source of us, the source of everything in the universe, and the source of all the answers we need in our daily lives. If we just ask inside first, sometimes the answer will just come back right out. Sometimes it will come out as a feeling. Sometimes it comes out as a thought. Sometimes it will come out as a phrase from a sutra or a dharma talk. Sometimes it will come back out at that instant and sometimes it won’t come out for a year, two years, and three years. Sometimes you are walking down the street one day to work and all of a sudden, the answer will pop into your head, ah! That’s why! And as we begin to practice, as we begin to develop that, you know when the things get urgent, I need an answer now! And the answer will come back out.
I saw something really interesting on the news a while back, about a postman in the United States who saw a house on fire. In the house there was an elderly woman who was sleeping under the one of the windows, but there was so much smoke and she couldn’t see anything. He knew that there was an elderly woman who lived there, but the fire was so bad there was no time. The postman said, “Oh! Help me God! Where is she? Which window should I go to?” And at that moment the woman was praying for help too. This postman said that all of a sudden he heard a voice, just like someone was standing next to him, saying “Go to the window on the right.” He turned to that window, reached in and felt the grandmother and pulled her out. This kind of thing can happen because our minds are all connected. Although they were both Christians, this kind of thing happened because they were both going inside at the same time. Because they were going inside, their minds connected and communicated. So, what the man needed to do came out and he was able to save the lady.
So when we say ‘let go’ or ‘entrust,’ this isn’t trying to push things away. This isn’t trying to force something down. It’s knowing that my true nature, my Buddha nature is taking care of it, and then leaving it alone, not forcing it, not trying to touch it, poke at it, poke at it and see what’s happening. Once you entrust something, know that your true nature is taking care of this. Leave it at that and just go forward, and if it pops up again in 5 minutes, then let it go again. And try to resist the urge to turn around to see, ‘how is it doing?’ ‘Is it working?’ ‘How’s it doing?’ If we keep doing this, we won’t be able to make any progress. Before we take some questions, I’d like to emphasize that you really have to find your own center. You have to awaken to this mind. Nobody else can do this for us. I am the only one who can deepen my spiritual level. I am the only one who can break through the things that hinder me. I am the one who have to figure out a way put this into practice, to try this, to try that, to try this other thing to see if that works, to see what happens. This is the true science. This is what the science really was. ‘If I do this, what happens?’ ‘If I do that, what happens?’ See what kind of result comes out. See what kind of benefit occurs. See what kind of problems happen. And just because something works one time, you can’t stop. You have to keep pushing. You have to keep working at it. It’s like all of our past history, all of our karma is input into our mind and is input into our body, and craving desire, hatred, like, dislike, all these things come back out. If something comes out just once, so just we let it go, ‘Ah! It’s all done.’ Hopefully, but over these eons, we’ve input the same thing so many times that even though we let go of one, another one that looks almost exactly the same can come back out next time. So it is easy to think, ‘Well, it didn’t work! Nothing happened!’ When, in fact, we may be looking at something new. It looks exactly the same but it is not the same one. It was something input in a different time. This kind of experimenting, this kind of applying is what we have to do. We have to find this out for ourselves.
The way of doing this is by trusting our inherent nature, knowing that our fundamental mind is there. Entrust everything to it and then watch and see what happens, and go forward with our daily lives. Every single one of us has this nature. Every single one of us is a part of this universe so we can practice wherever we live in our daily lives. We can practice in whatever the circumstance arises. I hope that everyone will try to put this into practice.