Just a few hours after my 4:30am flight landed in Kuala Lumpur I found myself at a Malaysian University with hundreds of Chinese-Malaysian Buddhists and the monks and nuns from Plum Village for a day of mindfulness. I had traveled to Malaysia primarily to see my teacher, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Zen master, and poet, Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh speak at a day of mindfulness, “This is a Happy Moment: Becoming Truly Alive” and give the keynote address at the first World Buddhist Conference, “Living in Harmony When Things Fall Apart.”

When I was on retreat at Deer Park monastery this past summer the Abbot, Brother Phap Dung, said to me, “I make sure I never let my gas tank go below 80.” Well, I was nearing the 79 mark when I boarded my flight to KL but the past few days have been filled with inspiring teachings given by world renowned Buddhist scholars and activists and I’ve returned to Delhi nourished with a heart filled with love, hope and gratitude.

I feel so blessed to have received these teachings and feel it is my duty to share the Dharma with anyone who is interested. For a brief summary of the teachings I received, conference presentations and some of my reflections from the past few days I’ve spent in Malaysia.

This is a Happy Moment: Becoming Truly Alive

If your cup is small, a little bit of salt will make the water salty. If your heart is small, then a little bit of pain can make you suffer. Your heart must be large.  –Thich Nhat Hanh

My exhaustion from travel, lack of sleep and mental agitation melted when I came into Thay’s (students of Thich Nhat Hanh call him, “Thay” which means “teacher” in Vietnamese) beautiful, loving, gentle presence. My understanding and practice of mindfulness is rooted in the teachings of my guru, Thich Nhat Hanh. The day began with mindful walking. When introducing the practice my teacher said: “Our teacher is the Buddha and every step brings us back to the here and now. We breathe in mindfully to become aware we are alive. We walk as a free person, as a Buddha. We are a free person when we let go of the past and the future. We are inhabited by the energy of the Buddha when we walk in mindfulness. What we are looking for is happiness, peace and love. This moment can be a happy moment. As we walk, embrace the collective energy of the Sangha to transform you. We will walk like a formation of birds and generate the energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight.” Always finding creative, humorous ways to connect with his students, my 84 year old teacher even made a reference to Michael Jackson and said with a smile, “’This is it’, like Michael Jackson.”

As we walked as a Sangha, as a formation of birds, I followed my breath with every step, “I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell,” and I just felt peace and joy. After walking meditation, Thay’s teachings were essentially “on love,” centering on the the “bhrahma viharas” also known as the “four immeasurables” or the “four divine abodes”: loving kindness (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and equanimity (upeksha). My teacher presents these qualities as the foundation for “true love” and wrote a beautiful book, Teachings on Love, that details how these qualities contribute to “true love.” Teachings on Love was one of the first Thich Nhat Hanh books I ever read so it was wonderful to have him give these teachings to reinforce the importance of the “brahma viharas”. This book states that the Buddha’s teaching on love are very clear and concrete and when we put these teachings of the “brahma viharas” into practice then our heart blooms like a flower. Thay stressed that love and understanding make us happy and alive and when we have cultivated loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity within then we can make other people happy. Maitri (loving kindness) comes from mitra which means friendship and it is the capacity to offer happiness but you can only offer someone else happiness when you understand their suffering. Karuna (compassion) is the ability to remove suffering. So a practitioner of maitri and kaurna has the capacity to offer happiness. In order to understand someone else’s suffering we must look deeply and listen to them. The First Noble Truth is suffering, the Second Noble Truth is the nature of our suffering. We must look deeply in order to understand our suffering and its origin and this leads to the Third Noble Truth which is the cessation of suffering and the Fourth Noble Truth is the path to end suffering. Unfortunately, in our modern society the path the suffering is covered up by consumption.

Thay stressed that we must first understand our own suffering before we can help another person understand their suffering. At Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice center in Bordeaux, France, he held a retreat with Israelis and Palestinians. He shared that only when they could understand and see the suffering of each other were they able to build peace. Understanding is not only the foundation of love but also peace.

Love for another is only possible when you love yourself. Self-love is the foundation for loving another person if you don’t understand yourself or understand how to transform your suffering then you cannot help others. Understanding oneself and one’s own suffering you become free. Maitri and karuna are two energies that can help you relieve your own suffering and help others suffer less. When your loved one is expressing their upset feelings Thay reminded us not to interrupt as they speak or else that will ruin our session of deep listening. When we listen deeply we must only breathe in and out with the sole purpose of helping our loved one to empty his/her heart. When we are listening deeply we must only listen, we do not correct wrong perceptions, we follow our breath and we do not get irritated or angry, in the future we can help our loved one correct their wrong perceptions but initially we only listen. We can even evoke the name of Kuan Yin and as her disciple we listen to our loved ones. He reminded us that when we listen deeply, we are the arm of Kuan Yin, the Chinese version of the male god or Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, who is seen as the deity of compassion in Buddhism.

Thay shared that “true love” in us and in our partner or those we care for should bring us mudita or joy in every moment. Equanimity or upeksha stresses inclusiveness and ensures that in true love happiness is not an individual matter–the happiness of a father and son, mother and daughter are one. These elements can grow and grow continuously. Each practitioner should be able to cultivate and generate more love every day. Thay ended with one of my favorite quotes: “If your cup is small, a little bit of salt will make the water salty. If your heart is small, then a little bit of pain can make you suffer. Your heart must be large.” True love is without frontiers, it is unlimited. The more understanding we put into our heart, the larger it grows—Understanding is what makes your heart grow.

As Thay spoke I thought a lot about whether or not I really understood the suffering of my students. While I definitely try I’m not sure how successful I am in truly understanding the suffering of my students. It’s challenging in an 85 minute period with so many objectives to accomplish to feel like I can understand deeply the nature of the suffering of each student but I must try and I’ve made this a focus for me this quarter. How do the “brahma viharas” influence my work in the classroom with my students? The teachings are simple but the practice is very hard but it is only the application of the teachings in our lives that will transform ourselves and the world.

After Thay’s inspiring teachings “on love” we engaged in the practice of mindful eating and teachings by the most senior female monastic in our tradition, Sr. Chan Khong, who is looked at as Thay’s Chief of Staff. Sr. Chan Khong led us in the practice of deep relaxation and touching of the earth. The day ended with a Dharma sharing in small groups. It was so wonderful to be with the Sangha, my spiritual family.

World Buddhist Conference: “Living in Harmony When Things Fall Apart

The World Buddhist Conference was organized by three Malaysia based groups, the Buddhist Gem Fellowship, the Buddhist Missionary Society and the Young Buddhist Association. The conference brought together more than 500 Buddhists from more than 12 countries, representing various lineages in the Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana traditions. There were three distinct sessions that focused on managing relationships, engaging society, and protecting the world. The title of the conference was “living in harmony when things fall apart” and the enduring understanding I believe every conference attendee left with was that in order to have harmony and peace in the world we have to have harmony and peace within ourselves and the application of basic Buddhist teachings enable us to do that. One of the eminent speakers, Venerable Tejadhammo Bhikku, a Theravadan Monk shared that in the Pali Cannon, the term “harmony” is never divorced from its musical origins which means it arises and comes into being constantly, it needs to be sustained, is dynamic and not static. Every single day things fall apart and we must learn how to maintain harmony in ourselves and in the world.  An Australian native, Venerable Tejadhammo talked about “rips” which I understood from my few surfing experiences in Bali and Hawaii. A rip is a current in the ocean that can pull you far away from shore. The only way you can escape a rip is not to try and swim against it but rather become aware of what you are in, allow the rip to take you into the ocean where it will eventually lose its power and then you can swim back in a slightly different direction. Venerable Tejadhammo encouraged us to live into the turbulence with a lot of trust, confidence and faith. In response to my question about “faith in the Buddhist context” on a retreat in India, my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, told me that faith is having confidence in my own Buddha nature and my ability to skillfully handle whatever life may throw my way. I tend to think of the First Noble Truth of suffering as impermanence, inevitable change and uncertainty and am learning to move with those changes and become more comfortable with not knowing and with uncertainty.

My teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, gave the keynote address at the conference entitled: “Living Together in Harmony.” In introducing my teacher, Dr.Wei, President of the Buddhist Gem Fellowship, a trained economist and Chairman of the Malaysian Tourism Board shared that “Nhat” stands for one and “Hahn” stands for action and his insight could help the multi-ethnic, multi-religious country of Malaysia promote harmony and unity in diversity. During my brief time in the country it was clear that the concept of “One Malaysia” needs a lot of work, the segregation between ethnic-religious groups was very evident.

Thay spoke beautifully about how through right thinking and right action peace and harmony can remain even when the whole world seems to have turned upside down. In the talk he submitted to the conference which differed slightly from what he shared “live” in his keynote address he focused on the importance of creating harmony in the family through deep listening and loving speech. He also spoke about the importance of having a “kalyanamitra” or spiritual friend who is able to support us in our practice and nurture right thinking and right action. I’m blessed with smany kalayanamitras in my life! Right thinking and right action can be expressed through the five mindfulness trainings (which are a modern interpretation of the Buddha’s five precepts): Reverence for Life, True Happiness, True Love, Loving Speech and Deep Listening, Nourishment and Healing. I took refuge in these trainings more than two years ago and they’ve helped me bring love, peace and harmony to myself without which I am unable to bring love, peace and harmony to others. During the Q & A session, one of the Sisters told a story of a young woman who had the trainings on her iPod and how she reads them until her mind is clear. I read them every morning and whenever I am faced with an ethical dilemma I also turn to the trainings and focus on them until my mind is clear.  Here are the trainings:

Sisters and brothers in the community, this is the moment when we enjoy reciting the Five Mindfulness Trainings together. The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

Reverence For Life: Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

True Happiness: Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

True Love: Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

Loving Speech and Deep Listening: Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

Nourishment and Healing: Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

In Venerable Wei Wu’s response to Thay’s lecture he shared: “Living in accordance to the five Mindfulness Training of protecting life, acting with generosity, being responsible for one’s sexual behavior, speaking lovingly and listening deeply as well as nourishment and healing is the key to heal our personal lives and the life of our society and all this has to start within the family.” Oftentimes I encounter “spiritual seekers” from the West in India. They are sincere and come to India to engage in deep practice but many of them have horrible relationships (if any relationship at all) with their parents. Our parents are our source and while Thay always stresses the importance of creating harmony in all of our relationships we should especially create harmony with our family first. I think it was Ram Dass who said something along the lines of, “You think you are enlightened? Go spend a week with your family.”

Thay also quoted the French philosopher Sarte who said, “Man is the sum of his actions.” With right thinking we can gain the insight of interbeing which is Thay’s term for the fundamental Buddhist teaching of dependent origination or co-arising and with this understanding we can engage in right action.

In Dr. David Loy’s response to my teacher’s lecture he shared a beautiful quote from the well known Indian nondualist, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, “When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love. And between these two, my life turns.” Loy then spoke about how Thay calls upon us to overcome the illusions of our separateness. The root of our suffering is sense of separation and “as each of us is not separate from other people, so our families are not separate from other families and social institutions. Family breakdown reflects a larger social breakdown, and we cannot expect to resolve the former apart from changes to the latter. The most important point is not to preach but to set an example. One of the main things I learned as a parent is that, when I became angry at my son for doing something that I didn’t like, what he really learned from me is that it’s okay to get angry at people when they do something you don’t like. This implies that when my child develops values that I don’t like, the first place for me to look is in the mirror. A focus on values, however, should not overshadow another concern: developing healthy habits. The most important Buddhist principle of all is the emphasis on mindfulness—that is, on one’s awareness and attention. One way to understand the distinction between delusion and awakened is the difference between awareness struck in unhealthy grooves and awareness liberated from such ruts. What I do determines the kind of person I become. An anonymous verse makes this point very well: Sow a thought and reap a deed. Sow a deed and reap a habit. Sow a habit and reap a character. Sow a character and reap a destiny. This gives us insight into how karma works, and it is also consistent with Buddhist teachings about non-self. Buddhism starts with what I think because that determines the intentions that motivate my actions, and actions repeated become habits. Habits create my character because my sense of self is actually composed of habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. This sense of self determines how I relate to the world and thereby strongly affects how the world relates back to me.” Dr. Loy also urged us to be motivated by kindness and that in order to transform the quality of our lives we must first transform our intentions and motivations. Training our minds will transform ourselves and therefore the world and how we relate to the world. To address the crisis we face there needs to be a marrying of the inner transformation Buddhism can provide (meditation teaches us how to transform our suffering) and the social transformation modernity has brought us.

I asked Dr. Loy and my elder monastic brothers and sisters in my tradition who were representing, Thich Nhat Hanh, to give their thoughts on a nondual approach to education. Brother Phap Dung, the Abbot at Deer Park Monastery, spoke about bringing the practice of insight and nondualism and interbeing to educators  and he described the retreats he has held with parents and their children and professors and their students. He shared that when they practice together they lose their concept and titles. Teachers and parents suffer with hierarchy, power or inferiority. At Deer Park parents are taught to nonparent and instead of reprimanding they come back to breathing and this helps parents and teachers recognize the source of speech or action before they speak or act which promotes right thinking and right speech. We have a history from our childhood and we bring that into our teaching and parenting environment and continue this cycle. A practice to help teachers and parents is to reflect on the 5 year old child within to see and feel their tenderness and vulnerability. When we do this we see our children and students and that there really is no difference between us. Dr. Loy shared that Rudolph Steiner who founded the Waldorf Schools would ask students: “Do you love your teacher?” And then ask teachers, “Do you love your students” This exercise is a test of nonduality in the classroom. Loy also spoke to the importance of reducing competitiveness and reminded me of Yeats remark that education is “not filling a pail but lighting a fire.”

Another question asked for clarification on the term “socially engaged Buddhism” and my elder Dharma brother shared that engaged Buddhism is when we use our daily life as our practice. We cannot choose our circumstances but we can choose how we respond. Even when we are busy we can enjoy our in breath and out breath and be present for others when they are suffering. He also stated that while we will not allow our Sangha to be political instrument we will speak out against an injustice. In order to share deeply, we must share our understanding in the spirit of deep listening and loving speech. Politics can be expression of awakening. Meditation is an expression of love. Only when we are aware of the situation can we respond skillfully. Socially engaged Buddhism is Buddhism that enters into the world and this is the Bodhisattva ideal.

One of the speakers, Ms. Anchalee Kurutach, shared a definition of socially engaged Buddhism from Donal Rothberg and Hozan Alan Senauke: “Socially engaged Buddhism is a Dharma practice that flows from the understanding of the complete yet complicated interdependence of all life. It is the practice of the bodhisattva vow to save all beings. It is to know that the liberations of ourselves and the liberation of others are inseparable. It is to transform ourselves as we transform all our relationships and our larger society. It is work at times from the inside out and at times from the outside in, depending on the needs and conditions. It is to see the world through the eye of the Dharma and to respond emphatically and actively with compassion.”

Managing Relationships

After the reflections on my teacher’s keynote address the next session focused on managing relationships. The first speaker was Dr. Tan Eng Kong, a medical doctor, consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist. He focused on the second part of the conference theme, “Things Fall Apart” and presented how he attempts to blend western concepts of psychology and ancient insights of the Buddha. He stressed the importance of communication, compassion, and continuous connections in order to nurture and nourish relationships. His understanding of communication combines the Buddhist principles of Right Speech, Right Actions, and Right Livelihood that constitute our ethical foundations and the importance of nonverbal communication as expressed in Western Psychology (facial expressions and body language). Compassion for Tan Eng Kong is “our capacity to be kind, gentle, understanding and accepting because we wish to reduce the pain and suffering of another especially when they are vulnerable. He spoke about the “brahma viharas,” and writes: “When we are in states of loving-kindness, metta, our warmth, respect and friendliness sustains our intimate relationships. Secondly we need compassion for each others shortcomings and sufferings. Our capacity for altruist joy, helps us to enjoy and celebrate each others strengths and successes. And finally, equanimity gives us the calmness we need when we are in the face of conflicts and challenges—it helps us to respond wisely rather than act foolishly.” Continuous connecting refers to our human need to “connect deeply and be emotionally related to others for a normal sense of well-being.” As he listens Dr. Tan Eng Kong is relaxed, he keeps his mind open, follows his breath. In deep listening he listens to what is behind the words. Every message has a feeling, an emotion, and he is moved into understanding the feeling of a speaker.

Venerable Geshe Tenzin Zopa spoke about “Transforming the Demon Within Oneself.”  Geshe said that things fall apart because of negative karma. He shared the prayer, “Never commit non-virtue. Commit only wholesome virtue. Subdue one’s mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha.” The first two lines address the impact of cause and effect (karma) and the third line addresses our minds. Geshe writes, “Our minds are filled with delusions of every kind but in particular, the primary six root delusions (anger, ignorance, attachment, pride, doubt and wrong view) flow from the root delusion of the ignorant mind. As long as one does not subdue or transform these delusions, resultant negative emotions will arise as the demon within oneself. The fourth line says that transforming one’s mind is the teaching of the Buddha. The elimination of delusions and karma is all about transforming our afflictive emotions and delusions. The general antidote to these delusions is to cultivate the altruistic attitude (or Bodhichitta) in its two aspects of conventional altruistic mind and ultimate altruistic mind. When one refers to the “ultimate,” this is within the context of selflessness/emptiness. The specific antidotes to delusions are as follows: For ignorance, the antidote is the wisdom realizing emptiness. For anger, the antidote is patience. For attachment, the antidote is recognizing the unattractive aspects of samsaric existence. For pride, the antidote is humility. For doubt and wrong view, the antidote is the wisdom realizing emptiness. All three yanas (Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana) have the Four Noble Truths as their foundation. Karma teachings are common to all the three yanas without which, there is no enlightenment. It is important to have a clear understanding about karma: Karma has four characteristics – 1. Results from karmic action are certain (positive actions produce positive results; negative actions produce suffering). 2. Karma increases. 3. One does not encounter experiences that one has not created the cause for. 4. Karma committed does not disappear on its own. For karmic action to be “complete,” there needs to be four factors present – 1. The intention; 2. The object to commit the action upon; 3. The action itself; 4. The result that one intended and a sense of satisfaction when it happens. If all four actors are present when an act is committed one will experience all the three types of results of karma, namely (a) ripened results (b) results similar to the cause (c) environmental results.  We should reflect on our own daily lives and see the kind of karma we commit. As a Buddhist practitioner, one should always live in respect of the karma teachings with the great inspiration of Bodhichitta, the altruistic mind. Bodhichitta can simple be described as compassion combined with the acceptance of responsibility by oneself, to help liberate all beings from suffering. Loving kindness, equanimity, compassion are the necessary steps towards developing the fruit of Bodhichitta, which requires courage to accept such a responsibility to free all beings from Samsara. Like the bird which requires two wings to fly across the ocean, in order to go beyond Samsara, the Buddhist practitioner needs to cultivate both Bodhichitta and the wisdom realizing selflessness/emptiness of self and phenomena.” Geshe inspired us to practice, understand and sincerely apply the Buddha’s teachings with respect to karma.

Venerable Bhante Tejadhammo spoke about “Living With Purpose in Turbulent Times.” He began by saying the one yana is not enough and as he said this I was so pleased to see many traditions within the three yanas represented at the conference. He shared that urbulence is relative, what is turbulent for one person will not be for another. He urged us to listen to the Buddha’s teachings with our heart. The Buddha’s favorite image of turbulence in the Pali sutras is water/floods. He cited Samyutta Nikaya Part 1 where a devata asks the Buddha, “Sir, how did you cross the flood?” The Buddha answers, “By not halting, friend, and by not straining I crossed the flood.” The devata then asks, “But how is it, dear sir, that by not halting and by not straining you crossed the flood?” The Buddha answers, “When I came to a standstill friend, then I sank; but when I struggled, then I got swept away. It is in this way, friend, that by not halting and by not straining I crossed the flood.” The Buddha associates the flood with Samsara, he enters into Samsara but he doesn’t struggle against it, he doesn’t push forward straining out of it. He moves with it yet is free of it and in the movement he transcends it. Bhante said that our biggest problem is an obsession with having to know everything. We don’t have to know everything but we may have an experiential knowledge. He told us to be patient with all that is unsolved in our hearts and to try to love the questions themselves. He ended with quoting from Rilke in “Letters to a Young Poet” when he responds to a young man’s questions about the things of life: relationships, work, art etc.: “You are so young, so before all beginning, and so I must beg you as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and to learn to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the key is this, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, without hardly noticing, you will live along some distant day into the answers.”

During the Q & A the speakers asked us to practice right speech between this moment and the time we go to sleep. Buddhism is not going to save anyone as a religion or institution. It never has and never will, what will liberate us and others is when the teachings are put into practice. I was also reminded that when the Buddha visited his disciples he asked 3 very simple questions: 1. Are you well? 2. Do you have enough to eat? 3. Are you dwelling in harmony? If you answered yes he would ask, “Good, tell me how you do it.” The concern of the Buddha is basic. Dr. Tan Eng Kong mentioned that it is the personhood of Thich Nhat Hanh that inspires him. He shared: “Everyday I make mistakes, I hope they are getting less and less and I often apologize and simply say, “I am sorry.”  There is no such thing as compassion fatigue there is no giver and receiver, how can you be fatigued? An occupation is different from a vocation.” I feel blessed that my occupation and vocation are the same 🙂

Engaging Society

The focus of the next session was on “engaging society.” The first speaker, Roshi Joan Halifax, (who I’ve admired for quite some time) shared her work with the “Upaya Prison Project” which seeks to help prisoners “cultivate wholesome and prosocial changes of mind and behavior that are sustainable upon release, such as compassion, insight and honesty, and that decrease the likelihood of return to addiction or prison.” I found Roshi Joan’s presence beyond inspiring and she spoke with so much heart throughout the conference, her sharing touched me deeply. She began her presentation by reminding us that the Buddha taught one thing and one thing only, suffering and the end of suffering. She accompanied her teacher, Roshi Bernie Glassman to Auschwitz in 1997. This visit combined with her exploration of the suffering of prisoners brought her into a context where tremendous human suffering had transpired. The victims in Auschwitz were victims of ignorance and those who are incarcerated suffer because of structural violence. The United States houses 25% of the world’s prison population. 2.5 million men, women and children are incarcerated in the US. Her stories about working with prisoners made me think deeply about how crimes committed are systemic and due to societal breakdowns. Bearing witness is a profound process of listening without judging and without prejudice. Her work rests on three tenets of the Zen Peacemaker Order: not knowing, bearing witness, and healing. She writes: “not-knowing may seem strange to some of us. Conceptual knowledge is so valued in the world. Yet in many cultures wisdom is equated not with knowledge but with a kind heart of openness. Wisdom, said one Zen teacher, is a ready mind, a mind and heart that can be both tender and strong in the face of that which seems unbearable. This fresh and open mind is the mind that does not rely on facts or knowledge or concepts. This is the courageous mind that is able to separate from the familiar landscape of mental busyness and dwell in the still reality of how things are, rather than how we think they should be. The second tenet, bearing witness, reminds us to be fully present for what is—our lives and the world just as they are. In doing so we are called upon to continually cross the threshold of our story. Out of expectations, concepts, ideas, beliefs, and fears, most of us fabricate a story of how things are. We defend ourselves against the fear of pain with our story. We like to use it as a buffer against the impermanence of the present moment. To bear witness to the story and then go beyond it is one of the ways in which we express our compassion—sharing the suffering and joy of others and being in touch with our own situation as well. The third tenet, healing, asks us to make a whole cloth of all the pieces of our lives, to include everything present in the moment and to reject nothing. In the midst of suffering, dying, death, and uncertainty, we are able to appreciate the warmth of the sun. Through not-knowing and bearing witness, our capacity to include all the ingredients of the present moment increases. This enables us to serve others in whatever way we can by expanding the horizon of our lives beyond our small selves. The tenets are an expression of the three jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, the awakened nature of all beings; Dharma, the ocean of wisdom and compassion; and sanhga, the interdependence of all creations.” 

Roshi Joan Halifax stressed that in the world today we still persist on a dualistic view. Inmates are physically removed from society and they are who they are because of what we give them. The conference literature detailed curricula for teaching inside a detention center, it states: “In mindfulness training we have a chance to be alone with our mind, to let it become still, to give up ‘telling our story’ over and over again to ourselves. Paying attention for a period of quiet time teaches us patience. In learning to pay attention to the moment at hand, we learn to see the truth of this very present moment. Out of this truth comes wisdom. With wisdom comes new life. In addition to the periods of mindfulness training, the course includes stretch exercises (yoga), slow movement exercises (Tai Chi Chuan), and anger management exercises. Course Objectives: To reduce stress among inmates, thereby  lessening aggressive behavior between inmates. To reduce addiction, relapse and prison entry recidivism. To improve concentration skills during GED study. To improve the quality of inmates’ lives, so that they can focus attention on those life changes necessary for re-entry into society. Course format: The course class will meet for two hours each week. Pre- and post-intervention ratings of anger and anxiety will be done in an effort to determine the validity of this course.” The literature then went through 20 lessons including topics such as: Guidelines for an Ethical Life; Developing the Ability to Concentrate; Developing Mental Stability; Developing a Positive Mental Attitude; Working With Forgiveness; Cultivating Kindness in Stressful Situations; Cultivating Compassion in Stressful Situations; Cultivating Altruism in Stressful Situations; Cultivating Mental Balance in Stressful Situations; Cultivating Generosity, Ethicality, Patience, Enthusiasm, Mindfulness, Wisdom; Working With Physical Pain; Working With Mental pain; Exploring Self Responsibility and Interconnectedness; Learning the Relationship Between Cause and Effect; Working with Inclusiveness, Dealing With Prejudice; Transforming Fear; Discovering the Relationship between the Relative and Absolute; Building Trust in Yourself; Developing the Inquiring Mind; Learning Nonviolent Communication.  Each topic includes an objective, exercise, and rationale for the lesson. Each week of the 8 week course built upon the week before using Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program.

Venerable Thubten Chodron spoke about “Bringing Harmony to the Work Place.”  She shared that the human mind has the ability to create suffering no matter how good the conditions of our mind are. Stress in workplace comes because our priorities are confused. We haven’t clearly thought about the meaning and purpose of our lives, we just do as we are told and follow along until the time of death comes. She writes, “Most people spend a good part of their day at work, so it is important to be able to incorporate our Dharma practice into this area of our life. We can do this in several ways: generating good motivation, being mindful of how we interact with others, and counteracting old, habitual, dysfunctional behaviors. Our motivation is key because it influences the choices we make and determines the karmic or ethical value of what we do and how we do it. We need to ask: What is our real motivation for going to work? To become well-known in the field? To be praised? To feel successful? Imagine expanding our motivation, thinking: Today I am going to work to bring happiness into the lives of my colleagues, clients and customers. I greet them with friendliness, speak the truth to them, and treat them honestly and with respect because I want to bring harmony to their lives and my own. Take your time in contemplating the meaning of this motivation so that it will remain steadfast in your mind during the day. During the day, practice being mindful of how you speak and act towards others. Be aware of the intentions that lie behind those actions. If you notice that your mind is getting agitated, aggravated, annoyed, jealous, or arrogant, stop and breathe. Come back to the beautiful and inspiring motivation that you generated in the morning and remember why you are working. Very often we get stuck in habitual behaviors that we do not even recognize, even though they interfere with creating a good environment at our workplace. Attached to praise and seeking a good reputation, we defend our ego. We want to hear only good comments and don’t want to hear anything bad about ourselves, and we are in the habit of assuming that any question or even a small comment is meant as criticism of who we are as a person. This oversensitivity is based on believing that we are so very important—this is the work of our self-centered thought, which is the real enemy that destroys our peace and happiness. Meditation on the disadvantages of attachment to fame and reputation and the faults of self-centered thought will help correct this. Lacking self-confidence, we seek others’ support and think that by making one person in the office look bad, it means all the rest of us are good. When there is conflict in the office, we need to talk with the people concerned instead of involving the entire workplace.” Thubten Chodron also urged us to stop being competitive and instead be more cooperative and look at our lives as having a common goal to benefit society. We have two choices when we work with people we don’t like: 1. We complain 2. We find a way to make our mind happy. People want to change others but that is not a choice, we have to work with our own minds.

Buddhist activist, Anchalee Kurutach, spoke about “Relieving the Pain of the Neglected.” She shared the story of when the Buddha attends to the sick Bhikku Ptigatta Tissa. She asked us to think about what we would do when faced with someone whose body was covered with sores and pus oozing from their infected skin. What would we do? Would we care for the sick? She then spoke about her work with teaching Cambodian refugees in Thailand English and how while she worked very hard to plan her lessons and loved her students she failed to “find the root cause of their suffering.” She writes, “Two major defilements contribute to our neglect of others’ pain—greed and ignorance. We live in the world that conditions us since childhood to compete with one another and to be greedy for ourselves and our loved ones. Often, we say right away when encountering an oppressive situation that it is due to karma. That is, people must accept their poor fates because they did something in the past that resulted in them being unfortunate in the present. In this way, we do not see it as our responsibility to make any changes toward the betterment of society. Ignorance is a deeply rooted factor in our failure to help relieve suffering both in ourselves and in others. It is easy enough to point to where there is pain and suffering. We may donate clothes, medicine or money to the needy. These charitable deeds are important and needed. But, as a socially engaged Buddhist, I also contemplate whether these acts lead to the transformation of suffering or whether they merely provide temporary reliefs of suffering. This is the key question in my practice and in my involvement with the volunteer work I do.”

Rites of Passage and Being With the Dying

Sunday morning began with a special talk given by Roshi Joan Halifax that moved me to tears. She began with a quote from the Mahabharata when Yudhishthira askes, “What is the most wondrous thing in the world?” And the response is: “The most wondrous thing is that people are dying and we do not think it will happen to any of us.” She urged us to practice the truth of our own mortality and bring it more vividly into our own awareness. Placing such a focus on our mortality is really swimming upstream in our global culture and society. She quoted a physics professor from my alma matter, Amherst College, Arthur Zajonc who wrote inMeditation as Contemplative Inquiry: “Imagine that half the world is hidden from you. Half of the person sitting across from you has never been appreciated, half of the garden has never been seen or smelled, half of your own life has never been truly witnessed and appraised. If we fail to attend to the interior of self and world then, indeed, half the world is missed. When we turn toward contemplation, we are turning to the forgotten half, toward that half of the world which modestly and patiently awaits our freely given attention. While the rest of the world is on red alert, shouting for every minute of our conscious life, the equally important interior dimensions of existence wait quietly. When it seems impossible to find the time to meditate, we can remind ourselves of these facts. We give so much time to the demands of the world; isn’t it proper and even essential to give time to the silent half of the world that patiently waits us? Shouldn’t we give as much time to the inner as we do to the outer?”

Roshi Joan Halifax has dedicated more than forty years to working with the dying and as she shared she stressed the importance of recognizing our interior life and the development of mental qualities based in the “brahma viharas”. She had lost her eyesight when she was a young girl for two years and as a result she was forced to recognize her interior life.  Halifax writes, “Catastrophe is usually the circumstance that liberates strength, wisdom and kindness from within the suffocating embrace of fear. Dying, we can be more alive. Being present and giving care in the midst of a meltdown of mind or life can seed compassion. This is how we mature, and how transparency and intimacy are engendered. Our very physical and psychic vulnerability, if we allow it, shows us the path and the present. It can also nurture gratitude and humility. Contemporary scientists tell us that a living system, which is robust is one that often breaks down and learns how to repair itself. This is the essence of the spiritual path, a series of breakdowns that allow us to discover the truth that threads all of life into a whole cloth.”

During her talk, Halifax spoke about how death in our culture is a rite of passage and caregivers play a key role during these changes that take place. She also touched on how the tenets of the Zen Peacemaker Order have been guidelines for her work with death and dying—“Sitting with a dying person, I can only not-know. Sitting with a dying person, I can only bear witness. Sitting with a dying person, I can heal. The Three tenets come from life. They also were discovered not simply in the confrontation with suffering but in the experience of meditation. Using contemplative practices that help deepen our capacity for concentration, openness and insight, we can gradually expand the horizons of our hearts until they are big enough to include everything, including the reality of death and the fact that even when someone dies, “well,” it may not be a pretty picture.” During her talk she showed photos of the dying and the dead and I found this incredibly moving. While I am anything but a cerebral Buddhist the photographs had a deep impact in my heart and mind and I appreciated her use of them during the presentation. She concluded by saying: “Let us awaken. Do not squander your life.”

After Roshi Joan Halifax spoke there was a panel discussion about her talk and a beautiful Q & A session. She mentioned the neuroscience research being conducted and the domains in which she works: Attentional Balance (experience of attention can be sustained for very long periods of time); Emotional Balance (the importance of watering the seeds of altruism); Metacognitive Stability (guiding your thoughts and actions in a congruent way with your intentions so you are not a toy of emotions or mass of reactivity and you learn to actualize the vow “I vow to transform suffering” and bring that vow to your moment to moment experience; Resilience (increasing a zone of resilience in your life has 5 challenges: 1. vital exhaustion, 2. secondary trauma, 3. moral distress 4. horizontal violence. 5. structural violence).

Halifax also made a clear distinction between empathy and compassion. Empathy is the experience of feeling with someone. It is an isomorphic experience of affective resonance with an individual and brain research shows that this occurs in the insular part of the brain. Compassion is another order of experience. It is a  feeling for, concern for the individual and it is a complex mental quality which includes empathy but also the capacity to distinguish between self and other at some point so you don’t go into empathetic over-arousal—different parts of the brain are activated. It is a feeling of being able to respond. This feeling is located in the left prefrontal cortex. Now we have scientific evidence of what the Buddha preached. We can generate our capacity for more compassion through meditation. Venerable Thubten Chodron also shared that compassion does not mean you are a doormat. Compassion means we want someone to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering and this reminded me of Pema Chodron’s discussions on “idiot compassion” and the importance of balancing compassion with wisdom. Thubten Chodron also stated that compassion means you stand up for what is right when it is necessary to end suffering and the causes of suffering.

Venerable Tejadhammo shared that it is important to balance our emotions and intentions when we work with death and dying and it is important to understand that being present with a dying person is to share their suffering.

After the presentation on Death and Dying Dr. Loy gave a presentation about a fairly new US based organization, Buddhist Global Relief, created in response to a beautiful article by Venerable Bhikku Bodhi entitled, “A Challenge to Buddhists”: Seeing the immensity of the world’s anguish has raised in my mind questions about the future prospects for Buddhism in the West. I’ve been struck by how seldom the theme of global suffering—the palpable suffering of real human beings—is thematically explored in the Buddhist journals and teachings with which I am acquainted. It seems to me that we Western Buddhists tend to dwell in a cognitive space that defines the first noble truth largely against the background of our middle-class lifestyles: as the gnawing of discontent; the ennui of over-satiation; the pain of unfulfilling relationships; or, with a bow to Buddhist theory, as bondage to the round of rebirths. Too often, I feel, our focus on these aspects of dukkha has made us oblivious to the vast, catastrophic suffering that daily overwhelms three-fourths of the world’s population. An exception to this tendency may be found with the Engaged Buddhist movement. I believe this is a face of Buddhism that has great promise, but from my superficial readings in this area I am struck by two things. First, while some Engaged Buddhists seek fresh perspectives from the Dharma, for many Buddhism simply provides spiritual practices to use while simultaneously espousing socio-political causes not much different from those of the mainstream Left. Second, Engaged Buddhism still remains tangential to the hard core of Western interest in Buddhism, which is the Dharma as a path to inner peace and self-realization. If Buddhism in the West becomes solely a means to pursue personal spiritual growth, I am apprehensive that it may evolve in a one-sided way and thus fulfill only half its potential. Attracting the affluent and the educated, it will provide a congenial home for the intellectual and cultural elite, but it will risk turning the quest for enlightenment into an private journey that, in the face of the immense suffering which daily hounds countless human lives, can present only a resigned quietism. It is true that Buddhist meditation practice requires seclusion and inwardly focused depth. But wouldn’t the embodiment of Dharma in the world be more complete by also reaching out and addressing the grinding miseries that are ailing humanity? I know we engage in lofty meditations on kindness and compassion and espouse beautiful ideals of love and peace. But note that we pursue them largely asinward, subjective experiences geared toward personal transformation. Too seldom does this type of compassion roll up its sleeves and step into the field. Too rarely does it translate into pragmatic programs of effective action realistically designed to diminish the actual sufferings of those battered by natural calamities or societal deprivation. By way of contrast, take Christian Aid and World Vision. These are not missionary movements aimed at proselytizing but relief organizations that provide relief and development aid while also tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Similarly, the American Jewish World Service doesn’t aspire to convert people to Judaism but to express Judaism’s commitment to social justice by alleviating “poverty, hunger, and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion, or nationality.” Why doesn’t Buddhism have anything like that? Surely we can find a supporting framework for this in Buddhist doctrine, ethical ideals, archetypes, legends, and historical precedents. I recognize that many individual Buddhists are actively engaged in social service and that a few larger Buddhist organizations work tirelessly to relieve human suffering around the globe. Their selfless dedication fully deserves our appreciation. Unfortunately, their appeal has as yet been limited. Buddhist teachers often say that the most effective way we can help protect the world is by purifying our own minds, or that before we engage in compassionate action we must attain realization of selflessness or emptiness. There may be some truth in such statements, but I think it is a partial truth. In these critical times, we also have an obligation to aid those immersed in the world who live on the brink of destitution and despair. The Buddha’s mission, the reason for his arising in the world, was to free beings from suffering by uprooting the evil roots of greed, hatred, and delusion. These sinister roots don’t exist only in our own minds. Today they have acquired a collective dimension and have spread out over whole countries and continents. To help free beings from suffering today therefore requires that we counter the systemic embodiments of greed, hatred, and delusion. In each historical period, the Dharma finds new means to unfold its potentials in ways precisely linked to that era’s distinctive historical conditions. I believe that our own era provides the appropriate historical stage for the transcendent truth of the Dharma to bend back upon the world and engage human suffering at multiple levels—even the lowest, harshest, and most degrading levels—not in mere contemplation but in effective, relief-granting action illuminated by its own world-transcending goal. The special challenge facing Buddhism in our age is to stand up as an advocate for justice in the world, a voice of conscience for those victims of social, economic, and political injustice who cannot stand up and speak for themselves. This, in my view, is a deeply moral challenge marking a watershed in the modern expression of Buddhism. I believe it also points in a direction that Buddhism should take if it is to share in the Buddha’s ongoing mission to humanity.

Buddhist Global Relief is conducting many worthwhile projects all over the globe. In fact, they are conducting a walk in a few weeks for World Food Day in New Jersey not too far from the home of my parents!

Protecting the World

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the gret wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.” – Dogen

“Studying the Buddha way is studying oneself. Studying oneself is forgetting oneself. Forgetting oneself is being enlightened by all things. Being enlightened by all things is to shed the body-mind of oneself, and those of others. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.”- Dogen

The focus of the final session was on “Protecting the World.” In his presentation, “Healing Ecology,” David Loy shared that there are “parallels between our perpetual individual predicament, according to Buddhism, and the present situation of human civilization which implied that the eco-crisis is as much a spiritual challenge as a technological one. The fundamental Buddhist teaching of no-self makes us realize that the self is a psychological and social construction, which is by definition ungrounded and ungroundable, and therefore always insecure. Our constructed self is best understood as a process or work in progress…Perhaps our problem is not self-love but a profound misunderstanding of what one’s self really is. Without the compassion that arises when we realize our nonduality—empathy not only with other humans but with the whole biosphere—it is becoming likely that civilization as we know it will not survive the next few centuries. Nor would it deserve to.” He presented:

1. The self is a psychological construct–link between our suffering and delusive sense of self

2. Involving a sense of separation from the world which causes suffering

3. This anxiety includes confusion about who I am and the meaning of my life

4. In response, I try to “ground” myself in ways that make my situation worse

5. I cannot get rid of the self but i can realize that it is empty

6. This realization frees and empowers me to help “others”

Given the state of our planet Loy said we need eco-sattvas whose primary role is to heal the earth.

In “Doing Our Part,” Venerable Thubten Chodron asked us to think about how we relate to environmental degradation and to stop blaming others. Every piece of paper we use is an opportunity to care about the environment. Tonglen practice is insignificant to but it keeps our heart open so we do not fall into laziness. We must think about our role in destroying the world—when we are in our cars we should think about the human beings that are going to die of climate change that is related to our cars, we also need to think about the corporations that produce the products we buy. She shared that at a conference she attended last year she learned about a new psychological ailment called: “climate anxiety or environmental anxiety.” This refers to when “people look at the environmental devastation and become fearful, angry, anxious, or apathetic in response.” Chodron writes, “The Buddha knew that just because something is difficult, it doesn’t mean we give up and don’t act. Instead he called up his hope, optimism, and joyous effort and did whatever he could, and so must we to heal the natural environment. Acting in a more environmentally conscious manner in our own lives is an antidote to feelings of despair, helplessness, and anger. We must do our part—however big or small that may be—to lessen and stop climate change and the destruction of nature. In this way our lives will be meaningful and our minds optimistic as we bring the Buddhist principles of interdependence, wisdom, and kindness into our daily actions.”

In “Awakening WITH the World” Anchalee Kurutach inspired me with her story about working with victims of domestic violence and her call for Buddhists to live the Bodhisattva vow with socially engaged Buddhism. “That we are not free until all beings are free is daunting. It is much easier to focus on our internal liberation, taking refuge in our own cushion. After all, those who brave their souls and march on to ‘save the world at any cost’ are often crushed along the way when they realize the world cannot be saved. But does it have to be one way or the other? Can we truly see the interdependence of the liberations between self and others? Socially Engaged Buddhism offers a clear path. A meditation practice does not save battered women. Law enforcement, education system, health care system, societal values, spiritual teachings, family support, for example all play a vital role in her safety.”

During the final Q&A I was reminded that while I focus on this moment, I must do it within the context of big mind. We practice in the present moment and this moment is valuable because right now it is the only moment for practicing and it creates causal energy. On my way back to Delhi I was fortunate enough to travel with a lovely Tibetan Buddhist Monk who is a student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, my friend, Kabir Saxena. Spending time with Kabir also reminded me of the larger context of the dharma and the deep teachings in the Tibetan tradition about karma. In the tradition of my teacher we don’t subscribe to reincarnation in the traditional sense but rather “continuation” where we continue on all of the elements and all of the lives of those we’ve touched. Dr. Loy even commented that science hasn’t proved rebirth and that was the accepted belief of the day during the Buddha’s time but this is something we may want to approach with agnosticism and this reminded me of the writings of Stephen Batchelor and his book, Buddhism Without Beliefs.

The conference ended with the organizer, Benny Liow, summarizing each talk and sharing my favorite lines from the Avatamsuka Sutra which speak to our interconnectedness, lack of a separate self, and how we exist in others: “Far away in the heavenly abode of the great God Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out indefinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel at the net’s every node, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but that each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is infinite.” – The Avatamsaka Sutra, Francis H. Cook: Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra, 1977

The World Buddhist Conference sought to teach us that “if we understand the Buddha’s teachings, we will see life in perspective and be able to cope with our lives when ‘things fall apart’” and emphasize how basic Buddhist concepts can change the way we look at life so that we can experience true happiness. To close the conference we engaged in “sharing the merit” which is the traditional way of “ending” a session of formal practice or teaching. A representative from each yana shared as we all stood up and sent out the merit of our practice to all sentient beings. In the tradition of my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, we chant the following:

Joyfully Sharing the Merit

Blessed Ones who dwell in the world, grant to us compassion.
In this and countless lives before, from beginningless time,
our mistakes have caused much suffering to ourselves and others.
We have done wrong, encouraged others to do wrong, 
and given our consent to acts of killing, stealing, deceiving, 
sexual misconduct, and other harmful actions 
among the Ten Unwholesome Deeds. 
Whether our faults are known to others or whether they are hidden, 
they have brought us to the realms of hell, hungry ghosts, and animals,
causing us to be born in places filled with pain and suffering.
We have not yet had the chance to realize our full potential.
Today we are determined, with one-pointed concentration,
to repent the obstacles of our past unwholesome actions. 
Blessed Ones, be our witness and look upon us with compassion.
We surrender before you and make this aspiration:
If at all within this very life and countless lives before, 
we have given, even if only a handful of food or simple garment;
if we have ever spoken kindly, even if only a few words;
if we have ever looked with eyes of compassion, 
even if only for a moment;
if we have ever comforted or consoled, even if only once or twice;
if we have ever listened carefully to wonderful teachings,
even if only to one talk;
if we have ever offered a meal to monks and nuns, even if only once;
if we have ever saved a life, even if only that of an ant or a worm;
if we have ever recited a sutra, even if only one or two lines;
if we have ever been a monk or a nun, even if only for one life;
if we have ever supported others on the path of practice, 
even if only two or three people;
if we have ever observed the mindfulness trainings, 
even if imperfectly;
all of this merit has slowly formed wholesome seeds within us.
Today we gather them together like a fragrant flower garland 
and, with great respect, we offer it to all Awakened Ones —
a contribution to the fruit of the highest path. 
Opening our hearts wide to the Perfect Highest Awakening,
we are resolved to attain Great Understanding.
We will realize compassion and embody deep love.
We will practice diligently, transforming our suffering
and the suffering of all other species.
Please transfer the merits of body, speech, and mind
to the happiness of people and all other beings.
Apart from bodhicitta and apart from the thirst 
for great understanding and the embodiment of love,
there is no other desire within us.
All Buddhas in the Three Times and the Ten Directions
have offered their merit as we are doing today.
Repenting all our faults, we joyfully contribute 
to the immeasurable ocean of merit 
and the towering peaks of the Highest Understanding.
The Buddhas and the Ancestral Teachers 
are the light which shows us the way. In this solemn moment, with all my life’s force,
I come back to myself and bow deeply with respect.

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