In May of 2019 the Sugarplum Sangha partnered with Mindful Peacebuilding to offer a retreat called Bodhisattvas In Action. In this week-long retreat, we focused an entire day on each of the Five Mindfulness Trainings (Reverence for Life, True Happiness, True Love, Deep Listening and Loving Speech, and Nourishment and Healing) paired with a Bodhisattva that embodied such qualities.
The title of this post is Bodhisattvas "In Action" with "In Action" in quotes because it is about the Third Mindfulness Training, practicing with sexual energy, and the Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta who sees everyone not merely as objects but as potential Buddhas. What follows is another version of the Third Mindfulness Training written by the Wake Up participants on the retreat and a Touching the Earth exercise, which invites us to embody the consciousness of Sadaparibhuta and fully understand the implications of seeing everyone as Buddha. Along with Buddha nature, the exercise also lovingly recognizes our animal nature and shows us how to live with appreciation and respect.
Another Third Mindfulness Training: Embracing Sexual Energy
Aware of the violence, exploitation, objectification, and other forms of suffering caused by sexual craving, I am committed to understanding the roots of sexual desire. Knowing that the need for acceptance may manifest as loneliness, which may in turn become sexual craving, I will take refuge in communities and relationships where I can nurture the four qualities of true love: loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. By practicing true love, I cherish all beings without exception, which includes doing everything I can to protect children and other vulnerable groups from sexual violence. Looking deeply, I see that my desires are a product of my environment. If I were born in a different time or place, I would have different ideas about what is attractive or desirable. Therefore, I will practice to not identify with desires as they arise but instead discern if they are leading to more peace and freedom or bondage and suffering.
Invoking Sadapaributa's Name and Touching the Earth
I invoke your name, Sadaparibhuta. I aspire to learn your way of never disparaging or underestimating any living being. With great respect, you say to all you meet, "you are someone of great value, you have Buddha nature. I see this potential in you." I will look with a wise, compassionate gaze, so I am able to hold up a mirror where others can see their ultimate nature reflected. I will remind people who feel worthless that they too are a precious wonder of life. I vow to water only the positive seeds in myself and others, so that my thoughts, words, and actions can encourage confidence and self-acceptance in ourselves, our children, our loved ones, and in everyone we meet. Inspired by the great faith and insight that everyone is Buddha, I will practice your way of patience and inclusiveness so I can liberate myself from ignorance and misunderstanding, and offer freedom, peace, and joy to myself, to others and to our society.
-From Chanting from the Heart
Touching the earth, I invite the Buddha in me to shine.
I know that I have the seeds of joy, kindness, compassion, and peace in my heart, and I am committed to doing as the Buddha does and water these seeds with mindfulness, concentration, and insight. I know that by living with body and mind united I can enjoy ease and freedom in the present moment - the ease and freedom of a Buddha. My every thought, word, and action can be an inspiration and reminder for others of the Buddha nature in them.
With the great mind of love of a person practicing the Buddha's way, my only volition is for the well-being of all. In this moment, with my body held by the earth, I can let go of chasing sensual pleasures, power, prestige, and security and no longer need sex to satisfy my cravings for these empty experiences. Dwelling in peace and freedom, I can embody the joy of the Buddha beneath the Bodhi tree. This is a joy that is unconditioned by the sensual realm and a joy far more satisfying than anything experienced by the skin or the eye. It is the joy the dharma is leading me to. As someone with Buddha nature, I am aware that sex in itself cannot satisfy my deepest yearnings and that much suffering has been caused by blindly following more shallow desires. With joy, peace, and freedom as my foundation, I have the capacity to bring kindness and compassion to my thoughts, speech, and actions.
With mindfulness and deep looking, I will know when my volitions are dragging myself and others towards the burning pit, and I will stop to nourish myself with healing elements. The Buddha in me is awakened every time I come home back to myself, shine the light of mindfulness on the six senses, and watch with discernment the rising and falling of habit energy. I touch the earth and recognize that I have inherited this Buddha jewel from my genetic ancestors, my spiritual ancestors, my land ancestors, and the earth. With gratitude and reverence, I vow to cherish the Buddha jewel so that it may shine for future generations.
Touching the earth, I bow to the Buddha nature in all beings.
I recognize that I am here thanks to the kindness and wisdom of innumerable beings. Some of these beings could smile easily and offer their presence with graciousness and clarity. In others, their Buddha nature was just barely beginning to peek over a wall of afflictions, but I can see it in them. Inspired by Sadparibhuta's practice, I smile to the Buddha nature in all beings. I know that my perception can be clouded by craving and loneliness in a way that makes me forget about the joy, hopes, and suffering of other people. In such moments, I can see people only as objects of desire and not as manifestations of the Dharmakaya. Remembering the teaching: "the Buddha cannot be found within or apart from the five skandhas," I know that enchantment with these forms is not the deepest kind of love.
As beings with a common Buddha nature, it is natural to be drawn to connection and to celebrate inter-being. A Buddha is one who is intimate with all experience. As Buddhas we can cultivate intimacy with tenderness and respect, even as we see impermanence, non-self, and dukkha in all conditioned things. Touching this earth, the mother of all Buddhas, I vow to treat all beings with constant respect and nourish their confidence and love for themselves.
Touching the earth, I hold space for the animal nature in me and around me.
I know that I come from a long line of ancestors who were selected through sexual reproduction. My biology is still that of a primate and contains all the karma of an organism trying to survive in the wilderness, pass on its DNA, and avoid hardship and suffering. As a unique form of primate - a human - I'm lucky that nature has made sex fun and intimate and has given me a consciousness that can realize a realm beyond basic animal instincts. If I have sex, I will do so with mutual joy and appreciation, and I will realize that there are many other wonders of life available like the smell of a flower or the sound of a stream. I know that all these things can be sensual pleasures, but that sex has a special power over my human biology. Thanks to my human consciousness I can remember myself and come back to mindful breathing to calm the sensations of arousal when they are obscuring mine or another's Buddha nature.
Aware of my animal nature, I see my biology is basically the same as everyone's. We share most of our DNA in common. We're all animals, and together we have created a collective consciousness that gratifies its animal desires. I am aware of media that uses sex to captivate our attention. I am aware of gender roles that create power inequities and oppression. I am aware of privilege granted to people with sex appeal. I am aware of all the suffering experienced by people mistreating their bodies because they cannot handle the sexual energy our culture creates. I know that my specific desires are a product of that culture. If I were born in a different time or place, I would have different ideas about what is attractive and what is desirable. Therefore, these desires are not me and not mine. I can smile when they arise and let them go if the lead to harm. Touching the earth, I honor the animal nature in me and vow to use the gifts given to me by nature for the happiness of all beings.
by My Tong
The Wakeup retreat at Deer Park monastery last week was so inspiring and beautiful. I see so much talents and potentials in the young people and also so much suffering, but I know we have the way out of suffering too. I found out what worked well for me. The body is my dharma door. Staying in the body, being aware of what the body and the mind need at the moment, I naturally understand and choose what is the right action or wise thing to focus on at the moment (yoniso manasikara) so both my mind and body can work in concert and rest together, that is a great happiness.
When I was at ease and compassion was born in the heart, another insight arose. I could find the nourishing element in something or someone I initially thought was not nourishing or edgy to me. Someone said something that touched some racial suffering in me, and when I intentionally came near intending to ask that person to clarify what he/she said, I observed their energy and realized that ah, this person was suffering from his/her internal knots too, and I didn’t feel the need to add fuel to the fire as this person might not have the space in their heart to answer my question right now. I let the question go. Compassion told me to say something I truly feel nourished by and appreciate about him/her, and I saw the person’s face brighten up and the heart slightly more open to connection. It was okay to slowly connect, no need to rush. Slow and authentic connection is the way.
The next breakfast it suddenly dawned on me that ah, this was exactly what the Buddha was talking about in the sutra ‘5 ways to put an end to anger’ - when a monk could pick up a piece of clean scrap of cloth from the heap of feces that it lied on, clean it up and sew it to his patchwork robe. That is to find the healing element in an initially seemingly non-healing heap. If we look a bit clearer, we can see kindness and the Buddha nature in the other person underneath all that scars and violence and we can feel our heart widen. Suddenly it’s natural that we want to empower and encourage this person in their path. Suddenly we want to see this person shine brightly some day.
A monk’s patchwork robe is made from all his career of kind actions throughout his lifetime by recognizing piece by piece the light in the other people (plants, animals, land...) around him. Kindness is what we wear and continually nourish in ourselves and others. Imagine if this is the world we live in and we all wear clothes made up of kindness. Long robes, short robes, kimonos, T-shirts, short sleeves - the quilt of harmony in ourselves and peace in others.
I remembered Thay’s talk on this sutra and the delight in his voice when one day, the roommate who was difficult at first and whom he nourished day by day with his kind encouragement suddenly one day blossomed and was able to transform his difficulties. That was the sympathetic joy of seeing others blossom and we are so happy for them. I think it’s probably similar to how parents feel too when their kids blossom.
I am so thankful to the monks and nuns for being there for us to come and learn to live together as community. Thank you Thay so much for his far insight and compassion for creating the Wake up movement with the 5 mindfulness trainings as foundation for young people despite initial protest from others. We all benefit so much from your revolution of kindness, dear Thay.
by Allison Bekric
“Bring the kids, we love kids,” says my friend, My.
She’s trying to convince me to take my 3 and 4 year old daughters, Amira and Alisa, to Sugar Plum Sangha in Ukiah for a tai chi/mediation retreat. It includes silent eating, silent walking, and silent time. Downstairs I hear a crash and one of my kids starts screaming.
“Okay. If you say so,” I say and hang up.
The next morning I’m stuffing Hello Kitty pillows into the trunk of my car as my kids race around the lawn and practice the tumbling they learned in gymnastics class. I congratulate myself on remembering to pack all our toothbrushes and study the directions to the retreat. It’s two and a half hours from my house in San Jose and the last thirty miles are on a one-lane dirt rode through the mountains. In case we get lost or wrecked somewhere, I text my friend Ly so someone will know where we are.
“Did you pack snacks for the kids,” she texts back, “and toys?”
“Who needs special snacks and toys when you have vegetarian cuisine and the wonders of nature?”
After eating fast food my kids fall asleep in their car seats as Toddler Radio plays on Pandora. We arrive at the retreat by late afternoon and set up our stuff in the cabin.
“Wow!” My kids say and are deliriously happy to see bunk beds. They spend the next thirty minutes climbing up and down the ladders, peering over the railing on the top bunk and launching their Hello Kitty pillows to the ground below. Eventually, other people attending the retreat start trickling in and claiming their bunks. I tell the kids to please settle down. I worry that someone will complain about the meditation retreat being invaded by toddlers. Instead, a woman says, “you’re such a good mother for bringing your children.”
I feel my anxiety subside.
“Thanks,” I say. “ I was worried people would be upset. I figure, if the kids gets really loud I’ll just take them home.”
“No it’s fine. We love kids,” she says. A moment later, a Hello Kitty pillow hits her in the back of the head.
For dinner, we’re having lentil curry, rice, and pineapple. It’s really good. My kids eat the rice and pineapple and refuse to touch the curry. Dinner is supposed to be silent but in spite of my repeated shushings my kids keep talking. Finally, I tell them to whisper, which they do. I look around and can’t believe that no one is giving us dirty looks.
After dinner we meet in the yurt to do meditation and Tai Chi. The fireplace casts a warm glow and fills the yurt with that cozy wood-burning smell. Amira and Alisa start wrestling on the floor. I separate them to their own meditation cushions and sit between them as a barrier. Alisa sits quietly in my lap when meditation begins. Amira builds a tower out of the meditation cushions.
Soon it’s bedtime. This is the time of day I dread the most. At home, the T.V blares in the background as we argue over what kind of cookies to have with milk and then I stuff four squirming arms and four squirming legs into matching Dora the Explorer pajamas. I admit, because I dread it so much, I delay bedtime until around 9:30 p.m. when the kids are practically climbing the walls and foaming at the mouth with crankiness.
We get to the cabin and Amira and Alisa immediately dart over the bunk beds again. They scramble up the ladder to hurl things over the edge. It’s around 8:00 p.m.
“I’m surprised your kids aren’t tired,” one woman says. “It’s probably way past their bedtime.”
“Yeah. I wonder why,” I say and feel guilty. “I guess it’s because they slept in the car.”
I pick up Amira who is dangling from the guardrail using her legs to swing back and forth like a pendulum. It’s nice to see their gymnastics lessons haven’t gone to waste. I put Amira into pajamas and brush her teeth and then get Alisa ready. There’s no T.V so there’s no argument about turning it off. There’s no toys to put away. We listen to an owl hooting outside. Then we bundle into our sleeping bags—me sharing a sleeping bag with Amira on the bottom bunk and Amira on the top bunk by herself—and it’s lights out. The kids fall asleep without a peep.
We wake up to the bell ringing at 6 a.m for meditation. The kids spring into action. At home, I wake up at 5.30 a.m and the kids wake up at 7.30 but I suppose since they went to bed early last night they’re well-rested and ready to go. I get us all dressed and we head to the yurt for meditation.
The kids start wrestling with each other and I separate them. When I close my eyes to mediate, Amira wonders over to play with the rocks and pictures that are displayed on the yurt’s alter. I gently stir her back to the circle and sit her in my lap. Alisa is already sitting on her cushion cross-legged. We sit together quietly.
After meditation, we all go outside for tai chi and find that there’s an old swing set. My says that Sugar Plum Sanga used to be a school back in the 1970s and some of the old school stuff is still around. She kindly takes Amria and Alisa to swing on the swings. During tai chi, I learn something called “Taming the Dragon.”
For the rest of the trip we sing songs, eat while whispering, walk in the mountains and tell stories before bed. I was fearing huge melt-downs, screaming and time-outs but found that the kids became calmer as the retreat progressed. It’s not like I said, “Here’s how to meditate” or “Here’s how to be mindful” it was simply being in nature, not rushing and being around adults practicing mindfulness which taught them how to do the practice.
Come to think of it, I think children are naturally mindful. I remember Amira and Alisa saying, “Wow!” over and over again. “Wow” to the mountains, “Wow” to the bunk beds, “Wow” to the little rocks on the alter in the yurt. As for me, when was the last time I said “wow” to anything?
Before this trip, I was unsure if mediation would mesh well with my small children and thought that it was something that I’d rather do on my own. I learned that just as one gains nourishment from other people’s presence in sangha, sitting with your child in your lap or with them near you in mindfulness is also very nourishing. It’s teaching the mother in you to be calm, that it’s okay, that you’re doing good job. The fact that you are simply there with your children is enough.
My kids and I really enjoyed our time at Sugar Plum Sangha and have visited twice so far. I always leave grateful to everyone’s patience and understanding. When my kids say “wow” I’m now able to hear them. Sugar Plum Sangha provided me with an avenue to merge my practice with my real life and I am very grateful for that.