I just returned from a weeklong retreat at Deer Park Monastery for people ordained as Members of the Order of Interbeing in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and for people aspiring to ordination. One of the highlights of the week was a class taught by the resident Zen Master, the Venerable Thich Phuoc Tinh. He spoke on Faith. Faith is not a common topic in the Zen traditions I have practiced with. It makes me think of belief, which is not the point of Buddhism. The point in Zen is to use teachings to guide mindfulness and concentration to allow us to generate our own insight. The goal is for us to discover for ourselves new levels of reality and experience, to enhance our wellbeing and our consciousness. The proof is in the pudding, as we say, and the pudding is our experience. So, Faith was an interesting topic.
Phuoc Tinh pointed out that without faith in ourselves, in our capacity for transformation, in a practice or a path available to us to use for healing and transforming ourselves, in humanity, in the earth community, in the world, we may simply despair. There seems to be a lot of despair in the world. Many young people commit suicide.
Transformation is the heart of spiritual practice and is widely considered our only way forward toward a thriving, healthy future. In my practice transformation is what it's all about, and it starts with ourselves. Phuoc Tinh said if you don't want to change, but you want other people to change, that's ridiculous. The goal of mindfulness practice, which is what we call our practice in Thich Nhat Hanh's tradition, is to wake up, to see clearly and through insight into ourselves to transform our unwholesome habits of thought, speech and action, which create suffering for ourselves and those we interact with, into wholesome ways that generate wellbeing, joy, happiness, and peace. Phuoc Tinh's point is that without faith that this is possible, why would you even try.
I think it starts with a fundamental openheartsanghasd.blogspot.comfaith in ourselves. I know that for myself I easily get caught up in my projects and concerns and in my busyness I can drift into unmindful thinking such as worrying, or regretting. My imagination can easily go negative. I can find myself unhappy without even knowing how I got there. If I don't have a trust that recovery is possible, that I could do something to regenerate my sense of wellbeing, I could simply be depressed. But I know from experience that if I stop what I'm doing, bring my attention back to my breathing and my body and the present moment I can radically transform my mode of being in short order. I have faith that I have better potential than I am currently manifesting, and I have faith in the practice of mindfulness which has been designed and honed over 2,600 years for that purpose. It is not blind faith. I have experimented with the practice and achieved wonderful results, so I know it is possible. I have faith in myself, that I fundamentally desire what is best for me and for the world, and that I am capable of taking the actions necessary to transform, and I have faith in the practice I have learned and that there is much more for me to learn. I have faith that human potential is great and that as a human being I have that potential. I have faith that I can do this and that there is a community which supports me in doing this. The Open Heart Sangha is a primary community I trust in this way.
Phuoc Tinh also talked about how to practice using the metaphor of a clear, pure river from which we can drink. He talked about drinking from the river without muddying the water. He talked about how we can stir up the mud and end up drinking mud, or we can drink the pristine, clear, clean water and receive wonderful nourishment. If I take a mindful breath, enjoying the in-breath fully without any mental activity which muddies up my consciousness, I can experience what he is talking about. If I am mindful of my mind and appreciate the beauty of the world around me, savoring the blue sky, the green and growing world, the hills and valleys, the blessedness of being alive and able to sit undisturbed and quiet, I can, in those moments, receive the nourishment of all that is wonderful around me. It feels like drinking crystal clear water to breath mindfully without flailing around and stirring up the mud.
If you enjoy thinking about these things, please leave a comment below.
Thich Nhat Hanh said "Mindfulness is our inner sunshine." I absolutely love that. If you let yourself feel that, you will know at a deep, intuitive level what mindfulness and the practice of mindfulness are. Mindfulness is settling down into this aspect of ourselves which we could consider to be the essence of ourselves. Mindfulness is attention but attention is not bland or value free. Mindfulness could be thought of as one side of a coin and the other side is loving kindness. This inner sunshine, this radiance, is our true nature, the very best of ourselves. It both receives, sees and understands other beings deeply, and radiates light and warmth. Mindfulness is looking deeply and feeling deeply. It comes from relaxing into ourselves and the world in the present moment. It is a knowing that comes from direct experience. It is bigger and more inclusive than thinking. Thinking is just one of the patterns in the world that mindfulness beholds. Mindfulness takes in and radiates light and warmth to the whole. My aspiration is to be more mindful more of the time and to grow toward the time when I go through my day with a deep experience of spacious presence. My aspiration is also to share the ways I have learned to practice this and to cultivate a community in which we do this together to heal and transform ourselves and to heal and transform our world. I look forward to our doing this together.
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Welcome to my blog. I am a lifelong spiritual seeker and practitioner. I offer mindfulness training both online and in person. I am ordained in the Zen Buddhist lineage of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and have conducted classes in San Diego for over 20 years. When not teaching or meditating I work as a socially responsible investment
advisor, play music, and enjoy traveling with my wife and friends.