Mindfulness Yoga – Right Action (4th Noble Eightfold Path)

Mindfulness Yoga – Right Action 
Lecture Notes recorded on September 12, 2013

This week, we will talk about Right action.

Right action is about cultivating a harmonious external environment so that our internal experience can be calm and peaceful.  Imagine you abuse your child, always jokes about others, having an alcoholic situation, or are very casual about sex, it is difficult to experience inner peace when we are being surrounded by these energies.  The practice of Right Action is about taking care of our actions so that we can nourish the peace within.

Last week we talked about the practice of Right Speech, which was about communicating with others with words of understanding and non-discrimination.  Right Action is more about using your body and actions to express the love and understanding.  Right Action ties back to four of the five Mindfulness Trainings.  The five mindfulness trainings are derived from the Five Precepts from the Buddhist tradition, but rewritten in a more explicit and inviting way by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Tonight, we will explore the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Mindfulness Trainings.  (The 4th one is about Right Speech, which we covered last week).

First Mindfulness Training: REVERENCE FOR LIFE
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life. I am committed to cultivating the insight of inter-being and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.  Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking.  I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

Let’s put down the text for a moment, enjoy a few breaths.  Check in with yourself and see what resonates with you?

Reverence for Life is the highest ideal to not inflict any harm and violence onto another life form.   However, by living as a human being already has some form of violence to other life forms (even if you choose to be a vegetarian), say we may have accidentally stepped on an insect, or run into flies (or even birds) while driving on highways.  So this practice is about being mindful to minimize harm to anyone, any beings.  And harm can be done in many different forms, not just about killing others, but if we are not mindful and responsible of our environment, we are also creating harm to many other beings.  It’s important to examine your intention when you are about to take an action, and see if your action causes any harm and pain to others?  (sometimes certain pain is needed but it comes from the act of love, such as a kind mother may shout at her baby daughter to stop her from playing with the knife.  The daughter may cry [and feel painful that the mother was shouting at her] but the mother was acting right because her action demonstrates love and care even if it may not come out nice.)

We went to the Maldives for the first time on our honeymoon.  As we dove down the beautiful ocean, we saw many different kinds of fishes swimming around, and some were lining up, swimming towards the same direction (as if they were lining up for breakfast).  The fishes was having such a peaceful time swimming and playing.  I was thinking how helpless they were to have to bear with all the garbage we had dumped into their home and yet they couldn’t protest.  It really struck me at that moment thinking most of us don’t even think of their existence (unless when we eat them); they want peace just like us, they want to avoid pain just like us.  A few months after the diving trip, I decided to become a vegetarian because that is one of the very minimal things I can do within my power (besides being more environmentally friendly) to minimize harm to other life forms.

Of course, not everyone can turn themselves into a vegetarian, it’s not something that can be forced (or you will inflict pain onto yourself).  You can use your own creative and mindful way to help preserve harmony and peace.

All beings want to be happy, free and safe.  None of the beings want pain and suffering.  As a human being with a higher level of intelligence, we should take care of other life forms as our younger brother and sisters, instead of eating them.

Second Mindfulness Training: TRUE HAPPINESS
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting.  I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others.  And I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.  I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering, that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion, and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair.  I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not an external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.  I am committed to practicing right livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on earth and reverse the process of global warming.

Take a few breathe and see what resonates with you; what do you want to take home with.

I personally very much resonate with the line “I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. “  Notice how often we think about all the “ifs”?  “If I had this, then I would be happier.”  “If I have done this, then it would be perfect.”  “I will be happy when I…” I remember when I was a novice teacher (well, I still am…), I used to always compare myself with other teachers within the studio.  During my break, I would look into another teacher’s class and check their attendance and the way they teach.  I wondered why I had so “many” empty mats in my classes (and judged that I was not good enough).  Thinking I would be happier and satisfied if my classes were packed.  After a year or so, my classes started to become popular (I was happy for a while, full of pride), then I started to have another goal – I wanted to do workshops, thinking, “if I could teach workshops, then I would be truly happy!)  Working hard towards this goal, and finally I came across such opportunity and started to teach workshops, a lot of them.  Yes, I was happy for a while, but then another goal came up, “I wish my workshops are even MORE popular, I wish I can teach in other countries!”  The list went on… What I noticed after a few years of chasing after these goals was that there can be no end to this!

Do you also see this pattern in you?

Have you noticed by having more, it just makes you want even more?  And the happiness and contentment we once thought was enough did not last long?  Soon the contentment turned into hunger and followed by even more desire?

Having observed this pattern within me for a couple years I started to notice what’s on the outside does not define who I am on the inside.  And it is what’s on the inside that determines my happiness, not the outside.  The external things are like the carrot in front of the donkey, the carrot is ALWAYS in front of us!  I noticed the point is not about getting the carrot, but it’s about knowing that I’m not going to get to the carrot!  I thought happiness came from being more popular, but actually it comes from being content about myself.

So I would like to invite you to observe your pattern, to recognize that carrot in front of you, we all have that carrot (maybe it’s your dream job, maybe it’s your other half, maybe it’s your outlook, maybe it’s enlightenment).  This practice takes a lot of humility, receptivity and courage.  When you can see how much exhaustion you have created for yourself chasing after the carrot, you then have a choice not to do this anymore.

Ask yourself, what are the conditions I have now?  It’s a wonderful practice to write down five things that you feel grateful for before you go to bed each night.   If this exercise is new to you, it might sound harder than it actually is.  Most people find it quite easy and enjoyable once they started.  This is a wonderful practice to nourish the contentment within you, training your mind to see the positive instead of just fixing the negative.

Third Mindfulness Training: TRUE LOVE
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.  Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long term commitment made known to my family and friends.  I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.  Seeing that body and mind are one.  I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness which are the four basic elements of true love, for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others.  Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

We will also read out the fourth Mindfulness Training:
Fourth Mindfulness Training: NOURISHMENT AND HEALING
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption.  I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.  I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the four kinds of nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness.  I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contains toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films,  magazines, books, and conversations.  I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or caving pull me out of the present moment.  I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption.  I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well being in my body and consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

The third mindfulness training is about learning to be responsible to our partner and commit in a long term relationship.  Some people think casual sex may not cause any harm because it’s a mutual decision between two adults.  However, there might be unforeseeable consequences following these irresponsible actions.  Would you want your daughter to engage herself into a causal relationship?  She may accidentally become pregnant which can have a big affect to her life.

When I was twenty-one, I had a boyfriend whom had been dating for about three years.  It’s a quite steady relationship, and I accidentally got pregnant.  At that moment I realized how one’s unmindfulness can affect many people around me.  When I was about to have an abortion, the nurse said to me, “You know if you are going to do this abortion now, it may affect your future fertility rate.”  I had never thought about how the consequences could have had a life-changing result to my future life.

So it’s very important to be mindful of our actions.

Now let’s talk about mindful consumption, nourishment and healing.  Be mindful of what you do when you feel sad, lonely, and angry.  Often times when our actions are driven by our emotions instead of our mindfulness, it can cause ourselves and others harm in the future. When you feel sad, do you just go shopping, gambling or just go drink until the next day?  These things are not going to help you to take care of your problems.  The 5th mindfulness training is about how we can be more aware of our everyday activity and see whether they are generating peace or harm.

I used to enjoy R&B music a lot, didn’t like the lyrics a lot but I liked its rhythm.  I didn’t think the lyrics was a problem at first because I thought I could tune myself out from the sexual messages in the lyrics and just enjoy the sound.  I noticed I tend to repeat certain songs and I started to pay more attention to the lyrics (because I wanted to sing along), and slowly I started to relate myself to the lyrics .  Later, I notice these songs had been watering my unwholesome seeds, and I became more attached to the sex appeal of things and wanted to be approved by how men see me.  Thanks to the mindfulness practice, I decided to stop listening to them so that I can feel peace within me.

Observe your life and see how much time you spend on books, cds , tv games, websites… etc.  Notice how these websites or the magazines have an affect on  your mind consciousness.  Notice whether its creating more harmony or more separation?

The 5th mindfulness practice a way for us to cultivate a more harmonious environment within and around you, so that you can ignite your own light and share your light with others.

Remember the mindfulness practice is not limited to your mat or just your yoga practice.  It is a practice that is lived.  Our actions are the only ground on which we stand and our actions always come with inevitable consequences.  So it’s very important to be mindful of our own action and take full responsibility for it.

Lastly, our experience is only a reflection of what’s within you.  If you are experiencing something that you don’t like, please check in with yourself first and see whether it’s about not able to reach the carrot that’s in front of you?

Sometimes non-action is the Right Action, if it can nourish more wholesomeness within and around you.  Remember, waiting is also an action, an act of waiting.  At certain times in our lives, to do nothing and wait maybe more right than to rush and react.

Simply ask yourself, “by acting now, will be create more harmony within and around me?  or is waiting a better option at this moment?”  Then you will have the clarity whether you should act or wait.

Next week we will talk about the Right Livelihood.