Invoking Inner Tranquility: Buddhist Chanting and Meditation Ven. Jian Wei, Ven. Jian Hu, Ven. Jian Tan, Ven. Jian Zong, Ven. Jian Ying (Saturday, 5 Dec., 8:00–9:00 AM)
The Parliament offered several sessions on Ch’an Buddhism, and the one on Tuesday morning focused on inner tranquility. Four monks and a nun with shaven heads and brown robes conducted this morning observance. They were all associated with the Chung Tai Ch’an Monastery in Taiwan, founded by the Grand Master Wei Chueh. Two of them currently serve at branches in the Western United States.
Ch’an Buddhism flourished in China around the 8th century and then spread to Japan as Zen, to Korea as Seon, to Vietnam, and more recently to many countries in the West. Ch’an and other forms of Buddhist meditation are found to calm the mind, reduce stress and anxiety, relieve depression, and enhance life with positive attitudes such as peacefulness and tolerance. The purpose of meditation is to clear the mind and reflect inwardly on the innate Buddha nature, which is the source of true wisdom and joy.
The five monastics radiated a tranquility suggesting that their methods really work.
The morning’s meditation, led by the Ven. Jian Hu, consisted of four steps. First we were instructed to sit upright but with the body relaxed. The handout described the lotus posture, which we, seated on chairs, could not assume in the conference room. Next Jian Hu showed how to put the hands into the diamond mudraa, which is effective for meditation. This is accomplished by making the right hand into a fist that holds both the right and the left thumbs; then the four fingers of the left hand cover the right fingers. The hands, thus joined, are allowed to rest near the abdomen. Then he told us to keep the head erect, the chin slightly down, and the eyes lowered, looking down naturally. If the eyes are wide open, there is a danger of distraction; if they are fully closed, there is the possibility of sleep. Finally, the mouth should wear a slight smile.
The second aspect of this meditation concerns the breath. We were told to breathe through the nose, not the mouth. Breathing should be quiet, free-flowing, slow, deep, and even. To keep the focus on the breath, we were told to count the out-breaths: one, two, three, four, five, and so on.
The third step consists of calming the mind. There were two instructions: just concentrate on your breathing, and do not judge, reflect, or analyze. In other words, simply observe the moment in which you find yourself.
Fourth, to end the meditation, we were told to move the head, shoulders, and body slowly, then to rub the palms together gently and to massage the face, ears, neck, body, and legs. To come out of the lotus posture the handout advised to take three deep breaths, each time leaning forward and massaging the legs on the out-breath, and not to stand up immediately if the legs are sore or asleep.
The handout also contained further information. Besides the simple practice of watching the breath, it mentioned other ways to meditate, such as contemplative meditation, chanting, prostration, and even a walking meditation. Walking meditation consists of holding the palms down, looking straight ahead, and focusing on the act of walking—where the foot is being placed. The idea is to think of nothing else and always to stay in the present moment.
“Essentially meditation is mindfulness and being mindful of what you are doing,” the handout read. Also, “The keystone to successful meditation is daily practice. Let mindfulness become a way of life.”
With One Voice (film) (Sunday, 6 Dec., 9:30–11:00 AM)
The description of this film is the filmmakers’ own: “With One Voice brings together mystics from fourteen different spiritual traditions to share their perspectives on the unifying truth that transcends all religions. In this seventy-eight minute documentary, these awakened teachers address profound questions about life and love, the existence of God, the path to spiritual awakening and the way to true peace in the world. Through their words and compelling presence, they ask us to look within our own hearts and listen deeply, so we too can join the conversation and speak With One Voice.”
The intent was to create a dialogue between contemporary mystics of many spiritual lineages—Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and others. Whether they speak of God, Divine Reality, or the Absolute, or call it by any other name, those who have experienced it directly speak of the indescribable One that links and transcends all religions.
What is mysticism? The film begins by letting 22 spiritual leaders give their answers, then proceeds to explore the topic lucidly, finally showing how the experience of the Divine can lead to a better world. The images are often breathtaking, and their beauty is matched by the excellence of the voice-over script that links the interview segments. The overall impression is one of authenticity.
With One Voice has received high praise wherever it is shown and is now available on DVD.
Living in Peace Not Pieces: How to Find and Remain Anchored in Joy, Peace, and Bliss amidst the Waves and Storms of Daily Life Swami Chidanand Saraswati (Monday, 7 Dec., 8:00–9:00 AM)
Wanting some exposure to Muslim spiritual practice, I set out on Monday to attend Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s morning observance, entitled “Purifying the Heart and Soul through Remembrance of Allah: Dikr as an Islamic Devotional Act for Inner Peace.” Shortly after 8:00 a Parliament volunteer came to the front of the room and announced that the imam was not present and that the staff was trying to contact him. We were welcome to wait for further news. A woman in the audience remarked that the imam had been unwell the day before.
Not wanting to spend an uncertain amount of time waiting, I proceeded to another room, where H. H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the head of Paramarth Niketan in Rishikesh, was about to begin. I recognized him from a TV documentary in which he had made a favorable impression.
Rather than a religious observance, the presentation was a lecture about peace. He began by saying that everyone wants peace. “I want peace. But how to attain it? First, take away the ‘I.’ Then take away the ‘want.’ What remains? Peace.” (Three simple words, but what a springboard to deep contemplation.)
He spoke of the need for engaging the mind and heart fully in devotion. When you converse with God, that is prayer. When God talks to you, that is meditation. Prayer is a means to get rid of the ego. One should practice humility before God: “Lord, you are the holy one, the all-knowing.” When you do this, who else knows what you think? Only you and God. That’s God’s grace. Take care of “that mess of the mind” and don’t let it become public through the wrong sorts of words and actions. Prayer is a method of cleansing the mind.
The swami compared physical shopping with “mental shopping.” “Your eyes are constantly taking things in; your ‘I’ is continually shopping. Instead, give your ‘I’ to the Divine.”
About this “I”: everyone wants to be the center. Forget the “I” and make the Divine the center. When you surrender to the Divine, prayer happens, meditation happens. You don’t even have to chant the mantra. When you surrender, the Divine chants the mantra for you, and you become an instrument of the Divine. The more faith you have in the mantra (which he called “the Divine Insurance Company”), the less fear you will have.
The next part of his teaching elaborated on an idea of Mother Teresa’s. The fruit of faith is love. Devotion should be felt not only in the temple. If your devotion stays only there, then you do not understand the true meaning of love. Love has to expand to all parts of your daily life. Then you will see the magic of it. If the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service. And the fruit of service is peace. The chain goes like this: prayer produces faith, faith produces love, love leads to service, and service leads to peace.
What is chaos? It is the condition of the restless mind, of our own reaction to things. Who needs chaos? Just give up the ego to the Divine and see what happens. Remember, desires have no end, so give up expectations. What is called for is less expectation and more acceptance. “Expectation is the mother of frustration; acceptance is the mother of joy and peace.”
At the end of Swami Chidanand’s talk, his assistant stepped to the front of the room and gave everyone a copy of the swami’s book, Peace: For Us, For Our Families, For Our Communities and For the World. It deals not only with the inner spiritual peace that had been the subject of the morning’s talk but also with peace as it relates to contemporary matters of everyday living—political, social, and economic justice and concern for the earth—all presented in the swami’s engaging style.
Closing Plenary (Wednesday, 9 December, 2:30–5:00 PM)
Security measures at the Parliament had been remarkably low-keyed until the final day. It was a simple matter of walking through the doors of the convention center. Arriving early Wednesday morning, participants were required to have their bags examined, just as at the airport, and to walk through metal detectors. Now, for those returning after lunch, the lines were long but presented more opportunity for conversation. The reason for such precautions was the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the closing ceremony.
The Parliament’s opening ceremony, six nights before, would have been a hard act to follow. Besides that, the closing ceremony was a bittersweet reminder that this glorious event was rapidly reaching its end.
A Buddhist Group from Tasmania started the program, and various addresses followed from spiritual and political leaders, interspersed with musical numbers and blessings from various religious leaders—Christian, Sikh, Islamic, Tibetan Buddhist, and Australian Aboriginal.