A Beginners Mind for a Beautiful Future

The Sangha is gathered together at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi during the 2011 US Teaching Tour with the theme Cultivating the Mind of Love. This 115-minute dharma talk is from October 2, 2011 and both the audio and video are available with this post. This is the last day of Magnolia retreat and may be a little difficult if listeners have not heard the talks from the previous days (video playlist).

The beginners mind. It is a source of energy. A willingness to practice. And to serve others. We are not afraid of obstacles in order to realize our dream and our intention. Siddhartha had this beginners mind, and we can too. The mind of love is the beginners kind. During this retreat has allowed this to arise in our heart. Do we know how to continue this mind?

In Buddhism, there are two kinds of truth: conventional and ultimate. Thay explains how it is similar to what we see in science. We can learn to understand the true nature of reality. When we come to the ultimate truth, we can leave behind our notions of birth and death, suffering and happiness, being and non-being, etc. How can we do this? We cannot be an observer, we must try to be a participant. The Buddha’s insight received under the bodhi tree was to be relieved of all fear. This cannot be learned from notions and concepts.

We learn of Right View, another element of the noble path. Thay tells a story of Katyayana, a student of the Buddha, asking about Right View. A teaching of no-birth, being and non-being, as illustrated by a cloud. Right View is being able to transcend all these notions: being and non-being, birth and death, left and right, above and below, subject and object, etc. All pairs of opposites. We cannot remove one without the other.

Story of a grain of salt wanting to know how salty is the ocean to illustrate the subject of cognition and object of cognition. Being a participant to truly understand.

Talking to a flame to illustrate this teaching of being and non-being.

Thay writes these pairs of opposites on the board: birth and death, being and nonbeing, coming and going, sameness and otherness. All these must be transcended to see the true face of reality.

A teaching on interbeing and four more notions – self, man, living beings, and life span. Thay explains each as outiined in the Diamond Sutra. This Sutra teaches us that humans are only made of non-human elements. This is one of the oldest teachings in deep ecology. The Buddha too is comprised of non-Buddha elements. This is why bowing to the Buddha is not worshiping, but is a meditation.

We have been talking of Right View and dualism. We turn now to three other elements of the noble eightfold path that arise from Right View. Right Thinking can help us remove all discrimination. It is thinking that can produce understanding and compassion. It can heal the world. From these two we can then practice Right Speech. To restore and reconcile. This element includes our ability for deep listening. And then we turn to Right Action. Anything we can do with our body to protect and save. These three are all forms of action, starting with our thoughts. Thinking is already action. And we produce each of these every day. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that man is the sum of his action. In Sanskrit, this is called karma. Everything we produce will continue us; it does not disappear. We are the author, and that is our continuation. If we can keep our beginners mind alive, surely we will have a beautiful future.

The other elements of the path, briefly outlined in this talk, are Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. This path can be seen very concretely in the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We also briefly learn of the Three Doors of Liberation — emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness — in light of the retreat’s teaching.

We talk concludes with a couple of songs led by Sr. Chan Không.

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