Grounding Ourselves in a Hectic World: A Toolbox of Taoist and Buddhist Concepts


Sermon by Christina Drostin

To start today?s sermon, I would like to reference a piece from Won Buddhism. Won Buddhism is a relatively modern version of Buddhism, formed in 1919, that recognizes the global interconnectedness of today?s world. The term ?Won? means one. A key symbol of Won Buddhism is the circle, which represents our interconnection with all. Basically, Won Buddhism?s founder became enlightened, and when he went to teach others about enlightenment, he then found that Buddha had already thoroughly explained the process. He then added ideas from Taoism and Confucianism to create a modern practice that is accessible to everyone.

I invite us all to read together from the insert in the Order of Service. Please refer to the piece titled ?The Essential Dharma of Daily Practice,? from Won Buddhism.

1. The mind is originally free from disturbance, but disturbances arise in response to sensory conditions; let us maintain the equanimity of our true nature by letting go of the disturbances.
2. The mind is originally free from delusion, but delusions arise in response to sensory conditions; let us maintain the wisdom of our true nature by letting go of these delusions.
3. The mind is originally free from wrong-doing, but wrong-doings arise in response to sensory conditions; let us follow the precepts of our true nature by letting go of these wrong-doings.
4. Let us replace unbelief, greed, laziness, and ignorance with faith, zeal, questioning, and dedication.
5. Let us change resentment into gratitude.
6. Let us change dependency into self-reliance.
7. Let us change resistance to learn into willingness to learn well.
8. Let us change resistance to teach into willingness to teach well.
9. Let us change selfishness into eagerness to serve the universal good.

I offer you these words to share how I try to balance the busy and often fast-pace of life with efforts to maintain some semblance of inner peace. I want to make it clear that I am most certainly not a buddhist or taoist scholar. On the contrary, I?m a beginning student who finds that these philosophies are meaningful resources, a beacon of light, reminders of the alternative to the rat race.

For example, in this particular time of year, it?s so easy to be caught up in the rush. As many of us celebrate Christmas, I think we try hard to make gift-giving meaningful -which sometimes takes more time than clicking something into your cart on amazon. Although Michele can attest that I click my way to a full amazon shopping cart way too easily. Somehow, we add giving and shopping on top of our busy lives that are often already filled with work, caretaking of our loved ones, helping keep a household together, volunteering around town, not to mention the attempts to care for our own needs with exercise, some down time, going to book club, and seeing friends.

Now that life is settling back into a routine after the holiday season, I find that I have more bandwidth to resume efforts of being an informed, responsible citizen. Yet that means being aware of the dire straits we face with climate change, the social and ethical dilemmas we face with our current government. And I?ll add to that the growing cultural intolerances and violence that permeate the news.

How do we manage? How do we cope with the painful realities in our world, on top of the daily juggling of doing all that is essential, trying to do much more (i.e. all those things we?d love to do) and let go of the rest? Sometimes, not so gracefully. Occasionally we may pull it off, taking the time to breathe and truly appreciate life. Other times we may feel short-tempered, snapping at those we love most, we may feel more tired than usual, carry more muscle tension, and even get so run down that it?s hard to fight off the many viruses going around town.

One gift of such hectic-ness, is the important markers of the passage of time during this season- namely, Winter Solstice and New Year?s. These special moments make me pause, step back, take stock, and ask myself: Why am I doing this? What am I doing? Those questions are then followed by the larger wondering: Where am I? When am I?..? And thanks to Taoist and Bhuddist teachings, I return to the wise concepts of ?I am here? and ?I am now.? The only thing that matters is being here, being now.

With this simple and key concept, I would like us to do a meditative chant together. There are a variety of types of meditation. One type of meditation is chanting. Today we are going to chant the Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra is a tenet of Buddhism written in the year 600. It provides us with a sort of scripture on the path to enlightenment. Shariputra was a good friend of Buddha. One way to think of the Heart Sutra is to think of Buddha reflecting on his path to enlightenment with his friend Shariputra.

Please refer to the insert in your Order of Service. For those of us whose UU nature of critical thinking has a hard time reading something aloud in another language when we don?t know exactly what we?re saying, I?ve included a small glossary at the bottom.

In chanting, it?s not about singing or hitting the right notes. Rather chanting is about vocalizing from your core, enjoying the vibration in your body and the rhythm that we create together with the chant. So belt it out.

As Michele is accustomed to this chant, I?ll ask her to join me at the microphone while we all read this together as a congregation.

Heart Sutra

The Bo-dhi-satt-va of Great Com-pas-sion, when deep-ly prac-ti-cing Praj-na Pa-ra-mi-ta re-al-ized that all five ag-gre-gates are empt-ty and be-came free from all suf-fer-ing and dis-tress.

Oh Sha-ri-pu-tra, form does not differ from emp-ti-ness, emp-ti-ness does not differ from form. Form is emp-ti-ness; emp-ti-ness is form. The same is true of sen-sa-tions, per-cep-tions, im-pul-ses, and con-scious-ness.

Oh Sha-ri-pu-tra, all dhar-mas are empt-ty; they do not ap-pear or dis-ap-pear, are not taint-ed or pure, do not in-crease or de-crease.

Therefore, in emp-ti-ness no form, no sen-sa-tions, no per-cep-tions, no im-pul-ses, no con-scious-ness.

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no bo-dy, no mind; no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no ob-ject of mind; no realm of eye, ear, nose, tongue, bo-dy, or mind con-scious-ness.

No ig-nor-ance, nor ex-tinc-tion of ig-nor-ance, no old age and death, nor ex-tinc-tion of them. No suf-fer-ing, no cause of suf-fer-ring, no ces-sa-tion of suf-fer-ing, no path; no wis-dom, no at-tain-ment with noth-ing to at-tain.

The Bo-dhi-satt-va re-lies on Praj-na Pa-ra-mi-ta, there-fore the mind has no hin-drance; with-out an-y hin-drance, no fears ex-ist; free from de-lu-sion, one dwells in Nir-va-na.

All Bud-has of the past, pre-sent, and fu-ture rely on Praj-na Pa-ra-mi-ta and at-tain su-preme en-ligh-ten-ment. There-fore know that Praj-na Pa-ra-mi-ta is the great man-tra, is the great en-ligh-ten-ing man-tra, is the un-sur-passed and un-e-qualed man-tra, which is a-ble to e-lim-i-nate all suf-fer-ing. This is true, not false.

So pro-claim the Praj-na Pa-ra-mit-ta man-tra, which says

Gone-, gone-, gone be-yond- far be-yond, Now a-wak-ened!

Ga-te, ga-te, pa-ra ga-te, para-sam ga-te, bo-dhi sva-ha!
Ga-te, ga-te, pa-ra ga-te, para-sam ga-te, bo-dhi sva-ha!
Ga-te, ga-te, pa-ra ga-te, para-sam ga-te, bo-dhi sva-ha!

In his text ?The Thunderous Silence,? Dosung Yoo studies the Heart Sutra in depth. Yoo states, ?This chant explains how the Bodhisattva, or enlightened one, relies on wisdom, which is ?prajna paramita.? Prajna paramita is translated to ?perfection of wisdom? referring to the realization of emptiness, the true nature of no self, no ego. Therefore one?s mind has no hindrance, no fears, no delusion, and one dwells in Nirvana. [The term ?delusion? refers to the misperception, the emotional attachment that we place on ourselves, others and the world around us.] When the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion awakens to the empty reality of himself, he became free of suffering and distress.?

This concept of placing fear and emotional attachment to things in life is a key lesson that often rings true to me. I sum it up often with a little help from the soundtrack ?Let it Go? from the children?s movie Frozen. Let me explain.

At times, when I feel blocked with my thinking about a challenge that I?m facing, I may fall into a loop of 4-5 days of mulling and perseveration, feeling upset and emotionally tied to the matter. I find myself talking it through with my wife and dear friend. I explain what feels like a dilemma and the response often is, allow me to paraphrase, ?Why do you care?? Or ?Why does it matter?? I then protest ?Of course it matters! I have standards and expectations?? and I can even offer a 10-minute explanation of why it matters. The next question is often ?But why does it matter to you?? At this point, I find what I thought was a relentless argument and defense start to fail, realizing there?s some universal wisdom that?s about to reveal itself, and I protest again?Isn?t it okay to have standards and values?? Just the other day when going through this process, I was reassured, ?Yes, it?s okay to have standards, a code by which we humans agree (for the most part) to live by. The problem is when you?ve attached this emotion and misperception to the standards. That this challenge in life is a personal affront, when it truly has nothing to do with you.? And then I circle back to the Frozen soundtrack ?Let it go.?

When I ask myself, ?Well how do I move forward then? How do I hold true to the standards and values I believe in, yet without getting ?stuck,? hung up, or off track?? I?m reminded of a Taoist concept of flowing down a river. This river of life is not one that any of us can control, yet we do have the opportunity to take responsibility and ownership for our actions, which helps me focus on regaining some dignity with how I?m maneuvering my way through this life-

To illustrate the concept of flowing down a river, Deng Ming-Dao wrote in the book Everyday Tao this piece called Drifting:

The students constantly asked the ancients, ?How can we be happy?? And the masters laughed, not so much because of the question, but because the worry and seriousness of the question put the students even further from their goals. The ancients were fond of saying nothing was needed to follow Tao. One master even went so far as to say he was a boat, adrift on the water, floating here, floating there, without any concerns at all. Life was his boat, and Tao the river.

It is a challenge to accept the constant flux of life, but the greater challenge is learning to ride that flux. Different people have different preferences as to how to do this. Some want to go through life literally drifting, as the master?s words imply. But as is often the case, what the masters of Tao say and what they do are quite different! The masters say they want to drift here and there, but in reality, they frequently engage in arts, strategy, and positioning. It?s a fine point indeed: we may be floating on Tao, but there is nothing wrong with steering.

If Tao is like a river, it is certainly good to know where the rocks are. We also need to know the swiftness of the current. Then when going downstream, we can utilize the river?s full force. Willy-nilly drifting will not lead us unharmed down the center of the channel. That is why there is the study of Tao. That study is our buffer in the tremendous current of Tao. -end quote

Tao is the ongoing process of the universe. It is essentially the same concept that people apply an entity to in other faith systems, and refer to as god or goddess. However in Taoism, the concept of Tao remains amorphic and essentially refers to ?the way? or ?the one.?

When we facing what can sometimes be a stressful and even exhausting life in our society, when we find ourselves asking ?What is this journey? Where am I going? Perhaps the greatest irony is this truth, highlighted by Dosung Yoo:

There is no one to go.
There is no where to go.
There is no thing to attain.

Similarly, Eckhart Tolle reminds us ?Stillness is the language of God. Anything else is a bad translation.? The universal truth, or wisdom that Buddha attained through supreme enlightenment, is summarized at the end of the Heart Sutra that we chanted earlier:

Ga-te, ga-te, pa-ra ga-te, para-sam ga-te, bo-dhi sva-ha!

This translates to ?Gone, gone, gone beyond, far beyond, Now awakened!? Dosung Yoo notes the importance of the verb tense in this phrase. He explains, this very present moment is nirvana. We are already on the bus, so there is no need to wait at a bus stop for it. Let us just be awakened from this dream. Let us come back to the present moment, which is nirvana?. Let us be fully awake at this present moment. Let us be diligently mindful that nirvana is here and now.?

As Eckhart Tolle says in his book A New Earth, ?Your purpose in life is to bring presence and awareness to this moment.?

Closing Hymn ?Morning Has Come? #1000

Closing Words and Extinguishing Our Chalice

In closing, I leave us with the Morning Prayer Song from Won Buddhism

Dharmakaya Buddha Fourfold Grace,
I begin a new day in your presence.
Today full of health and with peace of mind
May I walk along the path of the Buddha.

Dharmakaya Buddha Fourfold Grace,
I begin a new day with your grace.
Today gratefully and with gentle words
May I live in harmony with all those I meet.

Dharmakaya Buddha Fourfold Grace,
I begin a new day with compassion.
Today making the world a more loving place
May I do all that I can for one world.


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