THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
Mindfulness in the Present Moment
By Filippo Morelli on June 2, 2014
All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, all Dharma Masters and all Dharma friends, Amituofo. Tonight is Spike's turn to tie Dharma affinity with everyone, if there is anything I say that is not in accord with the Dharma, please kindly correct me.
I first came to the City in November 2012, for a Guan Yin retreat. At that time we were living in San Francisco and I was working in the Silicon Valley.
That December my wife came up to the City again for the Amitabha session and during that retreat someone told her there was an opening to tutor some kids in the girls school. From there she was offered to become a full time teacher and in January 2013 she moved to the City and became a resident.
I've never seen her happier and for that alone I'm grateful to the City and everybody here that has supported her and worked with her.
During 2013 I kept coming up weekend and for some retreats, but while much felt familiar with Buddhism, leaving everything to come up here felt scary. And the City itself was intimidating in many ways. I've been to China several times and I liked it very much, the first trip we took it felt like being back in Italy when I was a kid, which many people can't believe, but it really is that way.
After many conversations, last November, I finally gave up, left my job in Google and moved here. I've been a permanent resident of CTTB since January 2014 and I don't think I've ever been happier. In fact at times I feel so happy that I feel guilty.
But it wasn't always like that, in fact during March I felt I was at my lowest ever. The truth is, I must have a lot of karmic obstacles and I don't do well with a lot of the practices here. I can't sit very well, chan sessions are as scary as it can get, my legs are shaking just thinking of this coming December. And I don't seem to understand the Sutras. My wife has given me many to read, but the Shurangama is the only one I can relate to along with the Six Patriarch and even those, when I sat in classes and discussed them, made my head spin. I love to recite the Shurangama mantra, but I couldn't sit through the Shurangama Mantra class.
I felt helpless and lost in the daily ceremonies and lectures, and the more I tried to make sense of it by reading more or forcing myself to attend the events, the worse things got. This state became obvious in my day by day work and interactions: I was unhappy and angry, pointing fingers and finding faults everywhere.
And then it hit me. What’s the point of being a Buddhist, let alone studying the Sutras, if in my every moment I can’t be at peace?
So I decided to run an experiment: for 6 months I'd allow myself to not read Sutras or attend ceremonies and just focus on the every moment. I felt really bad at the thought of not attending ceremonies or not reading Sutras because that's what you seem supposed to be doing here, that's what everybody tells you to do, but giving it a specific duration allowed me to let go of it, and what did I have to lose anyway? I was already in a pretty bad spot.
Once I let go of everything and just started paying attention to the present moment I discovered a world of behaviors and attachments with no beginning or end.
I primarily ended up focusing on 3 main topics:
- pointing to bad things
- judging and scolding
Food is a big one. I come from Italy and I think our reputation precedes us. I actually like Chinese food very much, in fact I seem to like certain Chinese things like stinky tofu that even Chinese people don't like. Still, I can be very picky.
When I was here for a Guan Yin retreat, a girl, during a Dharma talk shared how, as a way to cultivate a non differentiating mind, she simply ate whatever was in her bowl from left to right. That stuck with me so I tried. I then tried to not take more of what I liked and less of what I disliked. Slowly I made some progress and started to try to take some of what I thought I would not like. After that I realized I was attached to the individual taste so that even if something tasted bad it was still ok because I could still eat something else that tasted good afterwards. To counter that I began to mix all the food up in my bowl.
Sweets came next. I used two have two buns with peanut butter and jelly so I tried to cut those off. While under the 8 precepts that became really hard and highlighted how I was looking for "entertainment" all the time: not being able to watch movies or play, my body took it out on food which was still “allowed”. So with my wife we started to do something else and limited our meals to one single bowl. That helped to an extent as I could only pile so many pieces of cake on top of one another without it looking really bad in the dining hall.
After a few weeks the craves started to subside at which point I began trying to be more mindful, eat slower and not wander with my thoughts while I ate. This has been extremely beneficial and I've enjoyed the practice very much.
The second topic was pointing to bad things and for extension judging, harsh language, complaining and gossiping. Very much like food, once I started paying attention to the words that came out of my mouth in a day, ceremonies etc excluded, it was amazing how many were not positive and simply the fruits of deluded thoughts. Thoughts of expectations, thoughts of what should have been and wasn't, thoughts of what I'd liked. I tried to recall, before moving here, what kind of conversations I'd have in the course of a normal day and I couldn't come up with much that now would feel useful. As a result of cutting off that sort of speech there was a lot more silence in my day and positivity, which has brought me peace and joy. It reminded me that complaining is useless, you either can do something about the problem, in which case you better do, or it’s just better to let it be.
The added quietness also helped me seeing more clearly the roots of my judgments and it became obvious that they all came from the same place: my mind. Not only that, they were often my own faults projected onto others. That brought back to mind an old quote, from before I encountered Buddhism I think: everything around us is merely a reflection of ourselves.
It's been about two months that I've been focusing on my greed, on harsh language and in general mindfulness in the present moment and as I said I've never been more joyful. In fact pretty much the day I started doing this I felt better already and began again to go to ceremonies and read sutras and my sitting has improved, although I still find it all very difficult.
Going through this practice has also provided an opening to reflect on precepts. For the month of repentance my wife and I took the 8 precepts and it's been an incredible experience. I had only taken them for up to a week during past retreats and that was already a challenge to the point that initially I didn't want to do it for a month this time. In the end I agreed to and I'm glad I did. While eating one meal a day for the month I've rarely been hungry and now that the month is over, and with that the 8th precepts, I've been hungry non stop. I think that does speak to the power of not just precepts, but vows.
I know that Sutras, ceremonies, sitting and other practices are important, but right now it’s really being useful to follow this practice and focus on the six principles in every moment. I think what helps me the most is that I can see the progress. As it stands I can’t see the West Pure Land, but I can see my hunger, my desire for entertainment, I can see my thoughts and hear my words, I can hear the requests for help and see myself responding or not, or their behaviors and my judging or not judging.
Working on this for the last couple months and managing to get a little bit more detached from what were attachment of a lifetime, like food, proved me that I can change. The strength I felt from the vows proved me that the Buddha Nature is there, compassionately and patiently waiting for me to let go of my delusions.
We always say that there are 84,000 Dharma doors and while I don't know what mine is I am grateful that I've had enough support to be able to put down what I was trying before and do this for a little while. I admit it's hard at times to not feel judged. We seem to have very specific views of how we should go about our practice, the ceremonies, the classes, the studies, and I'm never quite sure if I'm causing harm to myself by not following more closely or if instead this, at least with my current causes and conditions, is my Middle Way. And maybe that in itself is my projection, but with no wisdom the struggle to understand is always there.
For this reason I'd like to conclude by requesting this Dharma assembly to renew their vows of compassion and kindness and help those of us who, like me, need practical ways to bring the Dharma in their daily lives as a form of cultivation.