What does “Spiritual” mean to a child?
Sifu: When you heard the words “spiritual reality” or “Spirits” when you were a child, what did you think of?
Tim Pig: Magic.
JC: The essence of something: its soul.
Simon: Some kind of power.
Scott: I thought of angels.
Sean Rat: The power that is behind your life. If you die, it’s going to keep living.
Sifu: When I asked Tim “What is Spirits?” he answered “Spirits is magic.” This isn’t a clear answer. So what do you mean by “magic”?
Tim Pig: Magic is something that I can’t do or don’t understand.
Sifu: So you are saying that Spirits is something you can’t do yet and don’t understand yet. Michelle, what are ghosts?
Michelle: When you are out-of-body, if you hold onto attachments in this life, or if your death came as a surprise, then you might not connect to your next life.
Sifu: So how does a ghost survive? Do they eat? Do they breathe?
Michelle: I don’t know.
Sifu: So it’s also something that you don’t know and can’t imagine. JC, what was your answer?
JC: The essence or soul. When I was young I remember hearing about tree spirits or water spirits.
Sifu: So it’s similar to ghosts. And what is a soul?
JC: Something mysterious inside an object that has life.
Sifu: What does it look like?
JC: Abstract. I have no idea what it looks like.
Sifu: So your answers always come back to “I don’t know.” If someone wants to develop Spirits but doesn’t know what Spirits is, that’s like trying to explain the sun to a blind man. You might say, “The sun is hot, like a candle” and he replies, “So the sun is shaped like a stick?”
“No, no, no,” you say. “The sun is round, like this plate.”
Then he touches the plate and says, “Oh, the sun is cold.”
So if you try to develop Spirits when you don’t know what it is, you are blindly trying to learn something, like the blind man creating the illusion in his imagination. That way you will never learn Spirits.
Simon, your answer was “Some kind of force, or power.” In science there are many, many different kinds of force, such as gravity and pressure. What is the difference between a scientific force and a spiritual force?
Simon: As a kid I thought that the power of desire was your spirit.
Sifu: Desire is surely not Spirits because desire always changes and always makes you unhappy.
Before you get what you desire, you suffer because you worry that you won’t get it. Once you get it, you might be disappointed because it’s not as good as you thought it would be. Even if it is good, you might be afraid that you will lose it, or you might worry that someone else will take it away from you. If you keep it a long time, perhaps you will become bored with it. And if it’s a person and you don’t want them any more, maybe they won’t let you go and you will be stuck with them.
What does “Spirits” mean to an adult?
Sifu: So, now that you are adults, what do you think Spirits is?
Red Bull: Spirits is a perfect awareness.
Sifu: So if your direction is to develop yourself towards perfect awareness, then Spirits appears.
Giant Dog: Spirits is your True Heart. It’s a power that always exists and is unlimited in its potential to be kind, caring, joyful, and free.
Sifu: You either have a heart or have no heart. If you have a heart, then it has to be true. If you don’t have a heart, then you don’t have a heart. There’s no fake heart; a fake heart comes from your desire, mind, or personal ego emotion. If you take that as your heart, it becomes an Illusion Fake Heart.
But truly, there’s no such thing as a fake heart. You are just mistaking your desire for your heart, but because desires always change they can’t be your True Heart. If your heart is always changing, then which heart is your True Heart? Before it changes, after it changes, or while it is changing?
The ideas you learn from the world don’t come from you so they aren’t your True Heart either, but you take them as your True Heart. When you take the wrong thing as your True Heart it’s called Illusion Heart, but there’s no actual heart in it.
When your heart truly appears, it’s called True Heart. Your heart is always there; it doesn’t suddenly pop into existence. When Buddhism uses the term “appears”, it doesn’t mean that something didn’t exist and then suddenly does; it means that something was covered and has been uncovered. The sky is always above us, but we don’t always see it because sometimes there are clouds in front of it. Likewise, your True Heart is always there, but it can be covered by your blindness or ego.
Your True Heart has unlimited potential to be kind because at any moment you can be kind if you want to. That kind of potential ability is always there, you just don’t use it. Instead, you are stuck in worry about “Me, me, me” which makes you unable to open your Kind Heart. It’s the same with care, joy, and freedom.
Your True Heart can enjoy life if you develop the wisdom to see how. If you don’t, you will be locked in the habit of worry, and won’t even know why life is depressing.
All of this is Spirits. Does anyone else have a definition?
Emma: Spirits is the ability to live within the philosophy and not to go against the truth of life.
Sifu: There are many different philosophies in the world. There’s psychological philosophy, which is talking cleverly or playing mental games in order to confuse people and prove you know more than them. There’s scientific philosophy, which is the desire to make everything abstract, complicated, detailed, and precise, but if you look deeply into each case, you’ll see there’s no reality.
Scientific philosophy is never to prove that you’re right, but to prove that someone is wrong. A scientist’s awareness is always to say that the old theory is wrong, but before they came up with this new idea, everyone believed the old one to be right.
So if you believe scientists, you’re stupid because based on their history you’ll see that scientists are never right as the next scientist to come along will say the old one is wrong. Whatever you know is only correct now and going to be wrong in the future. This is because scientists don’t have the power to see through all of life.
Scientists try to understand life by observing the materials from which life-forms are made, but that’s already a fundamental error. It’s like picking up cow shit and pretending it is sandalwood: it will never smell good. The basic premise is already wrong so they can never understand life.
Imagine if your awareness was taken away and nobody was aware of anything, but the universe still existed. What would happen? There would be no life because life needs a power to be aware of what’s going on. This power is called consciousness. Scientists don’t research consciousness, they research materials.
Through researching materials, scientists create weapons, iPhones, and air conditioners; they create many material things which make our life more convenient and enjoyable – the direction is not always bad – but they don’t research life.
There are other philosophies. One talks about horoscopes. There’s even a philosophy that talks about human psychology and counselling. Sean Rat, tell us the story about your mother’s behaviour.
Sean Rat: One time I got in trouble for not going to school. She said calmly, “I want you to be honest with me; tell me the truth. What were you doing? Did you go to school today?” And I replied, “Ok, I didn’t go to school.” Then she shouted, “What? You didn’t go to school? Aaah!”
Sifu: So despite her job as a counsellor, she behaved in a way that taught her son not to trust her. It was as if everything she said was pretence, coming from counselling techniques not from her True Heart feeling. There was no Open Heart reality. Have you ever had dealings with people like that? How did it make you feel?
Scott: You feel as if your time has been wasted.
Tim Pig: I feel like if there’s another chance, I shouldn’t trust someone.
Sifu: Does it make you distrust everybody?
Tim Pig: A little bit.
Emma: I feel frustrated because I go through the whole process and nothing worthwhile comes out of it in the end.
Andrew: I sometimes feel stupid that I was blind to trust someone who couldn’t be trusted.
Sifu: So you blame it on yourself, on your own blindness. If you trust someone like that, firstly it’s not their fault; it’s your fault because of your blindness to trust them. Secondly it is waste of time, so learn from the experience and don’t let it happen again.
We are learning Spirits so we not try to behave that way with each other. We try to make ourselves open and honest. We don’t use fake social behaviour; we just try to have a good intention towards everyone. It is hard to have Open Heart trust in this world, so we need to practise and share that with each other. Eventually, our True Heart will open.
Emma said that Spirits is learning the truth of life and not going against it. There are many different types of life just on the Earth: humans, insects, birds, lizards. They all have their own truth. Fish-truth is swimming, bird-truth is flying, and human-truth is to try to do everything. We create scuba gear so we can dive under the water like a fish. We create machines so we can fly in the sky like a bird. We achieve all of that through our thinking ability.
Each life has its own truth, but all these truths are connected together. Imagine if the sun, air, water, or earth didn’t exist: plants would not grow. If the plants did not grow, animals wouldn’t have anything to eat. Directly or indirectly, your survival is connected to everything else. When Buddhism talks about life, it is never just about your life, it is about all these lives and all these connections.
The connection between all lives has a truth and that truth has a system. We live in our ego, blindness, and greed and don’t make time to observe what the system of life is. It’s not the system of your life, but the system of all life. You stay blind because you don’t understand the connection between all lives; you live, but you don’t know what life is.
Once you are able to see all life and observe why they are joined together, why they exist the way they do, and observe all the connections, you start to awaken and understand the truth of life. The truth of life is always there, it’s just that you don’t take the time to understand it. Once you know how the system works, if you go against it, then your Spirits will not grow.
Who else has a definition?
Shona: Spirits is the only true value in life because everything else is just temporary or an appearing form that’s going to change. Buddhist Spirits is the only thing that remains eternal so it’s really the only thing that’s worth developing and understanding.
Sifu: The true value of life is Spirits.
I experience that truth all the time. If I try to open my heart towards other people, towards some outside situation, or towards materials, my heart immediately feels unhappy. Anything that is from outside is never 100% free because you are guaranteed to lose it.
Whenever you value something outside you will worry that other people will not care about it, will not take it seriously, or that the circumstances will be out of your control, so you are always unhappy.
Then, over time, your values change and you wonder, “Why did I take it so seriously? Now that I look at it closer, there’s not much value in it at all.”
In my life, I have found some values that don’t have this effect.
I never care if other people think I’m spiritual or not. I never care if other people judge my life to be valuable or not. There’s only one person whose judgement I value about whether my life is happy, meaningful, truthful, and worthwhile, and that’s me. If my heart says “Yes, my life is great, it’s perfect”, to me the whole universe says that. If everyone on Earth said that my life has no value I wouldn’t care because they don’t know me.
The important thing is that you are able to understand your life, the whole system of life, and the value of your life. So I often ask myself, “What do I value in my life? Do I live in that value? Is that value truly important? Is it truly worth putting all my energy into?” Then I observe myself, and decide that I do live in that value. I truly appreciate it and think it is amazing.
As I learn to see the value of my life more clearly, it becomes a stronger a power. Any time I doubt what I’m doing I stop and check what I value. When I confirm that the value is true, I instantly get a new power that stays with me for ever. That power gives me passion to develop myself and help everyone. That power gives me emotion that wants to help everyone out of suffering. That power gives me awareness to see every situation sharply and clearly, making me wiser. That power increases my desire to enjoy life and make every second full of joy without stupidity.
Desire can be perfect if that desire is connected to wisdom. When desire is connected to ego, blindness, possessiveness, and dependence on other people, that desire is stupid and will cause you suffering. When desire is connected to wisdom it will protect you and guide you to enjoy life without doing anything wrong. It will make you freer in more ways and stronger to enjoy life.
So once I clearly see the value of life and my heart knows which direction I want to go in, I receive all this power. Once your heart is open to the true value, then Spirits appears.
Garry: I think Spirits is a personal belief system. If you query your values and what it means to you to be a spiritual person, the answer can be very different for different people; you might be a Buddhist, an atheist, or a devout Catholic. I wouldn’t oppose anybody else’s belief system if they really feel that they follow that spiritual dimension. Different people choose different paths.
Sifu: No, that’s wrong; that’s called blindness. Spirits can be blind belief, but blind belief doesn’t work. Although it comforts you temporarily, it always ends in suffering. Spirits means no blindness and no suffering.
Garry: Can you explain why it’s blindness?
Sifu: Because you have to observe and understand life. Spirits has nothing to do with the personal. It’s the opposite. It’s actually to get rid of the personal, to open your heart and mind.
Garry: What if there’s not too much emphasis on the personal, but the individual’s feelings towards the world and their direction in it.
Sifu: If they did that, then everybody would already have found Spirits. Everybody thinks it’s good to follow their feelings, but none of them finds Spirits that way.
If you want to learn Spirits, first you have to get rid of blindness. Everybody is stuck in their own view. You have to understand life, and stop following your own feeling. To learn means to not follow your blind awareness and to want to see more.
It’s like the blind man thinking that the sun is shaped like a candlestick. That’s his own feeling, his own blind belief. If your feeling is not attached to the complete truth of life, there’s no Spirits.
What are the four qualities of being spiritual?
Simon: One time you told us about the four qualities which you need to attain in order to have a spiritual lifestyle: being truthful, being artistic (having heart in what you do), being compassionate, and being free. Once your lifestyle matches all those, then you are being spiritual.
Sifu: Being truthful is the basis of Spirits because it is the opposite of blindness. Spirits means that you have no more suffering; suffering comes from blindness.
When a toddler touches a fire, it’s because of blindness. It is attracted to the colourful light and flickering shapes. Then, it gets burnt. Blindness creates suffering. Spirits is the opposite of blindness because in their heart, nobody wants suffering. Spirits will guide you to understand happiness.
Humans experience many different types of suffering. There is physical suffering such as sickness. There is psychological suffering such as depression and self-doubt. There is mental suffering such as worry, uncertainty, stress, and lack of trust. To get rid of suffering, you have to understand truth; otherwise, you will never be able to find your way.
If you are lost in a maze, it’s only when you have a detailed map that you become awakened and understand the path that gets you out. Once you truly understand the map, being in the maze becomes fun: you can play as long as you want, then follow the map out. You become free: free to stay, free to play, and free to leave.
Being truthful comes from wisdom; wisdom is to be completely free of blindness. Truth is not just understanding the world; it comes from wanting to be truthful. How can you be truthful? You have to defeat your ego; if you don’t then you aren’t able to be aware of more.
It’s like the story of the frog that lived in a well. He was born there and never knew anything else. One day another frog came by and said, “Hey, jump out of that well. There’s a whole world out here that’s full of insects to eat.” He replied, “No, you just want me to jump out so you can take my well. There’s no big world. I can see it from here: it’s just a little circle.” So his blind ego didn’t trust the other frog and he stayed in the well. Then one day, he jumped up and saw the world for the first time and realised his stupidity.
Everyone has ego. If you don’t get rid of it, your True Heart will never open. If you don’t have a True Heart towards yourself, you won’t have a True Heart to see the world.
Any suffering comes from your own blindness. You have to learn to look at it and accept responsibility for it. Your suffering does not come from the world; it comes from you being blind, stupid, greedy, and egotistical.
Your ego is not easy to remove. Most people treat it like mowing the lawn: they cut the top of the grass, but leave the roots to grow again. If you never dig out the roots, your wisdom will never completely open and you won’t have True Heart to see through everything.
I don’t care if you want to clean out your ego or not. You can only learn Spirits for yourself, not for me. I’m here to help you be aware of it, but only you can make it work.
Being truthful is difficult, but once you have learned to be truthful, life becomes beautiful. You won’t waste time on stupid things; all your energy goes towards beautiful, good things, and then Art Power appears. You use Art Power to enjoy life, to share with the right people through sharp wisdom. When life becomes beautiful, joy appears.
When you are joyful and you see other people suffering, what happens? You think, “It cannot only be me who is happy while everyone else is sad.” You want to help them and share your joy. That’s called true compassion, but you have to make yourself joyful first.
If you can’t swim, how can you help someone who is drowning? If you have true compassion, you have to learn how to swim first. You have to find true value, you have to make your heart truthful, and your life meaningful and joyful. Only then can you help others, and true compassion will appear.
After compassion appears, you realise that you are already free: to enjoy life with your wisdom by being truthful, to create beauty in life, and to help everyone. Then you finally reach Spirits and all your perfect qualities appear.
Why do you learn Spirits?
Sifu: Maybe you don’t know, but I can see blindness and bad character in each of you. The reason I keep teaching you is because you also have beautiful and amazing good character. I won’t teach people with no chance to learn Spirits because it would be a waste of their time and mine.
The important thing is that your heart truly wants to learn. Why do you want to learn Spirits? There are only two reasons. Does anybody know?
Giant Dog: To get out of suffering and reincarnation.
Sifu: That’s the first reason.
Matti: To help other life out of suffering.
Sifu: That’s also correct, but it’s part of the first reason.
Simon: To create joy.
Sifu: Yes. Every life is the same: our essence wants to get away from suffering. We are searching for happiness, but we are lost in blind stupidity and unable to find it. Everything that Buddhism teaches is simply to help you understand what true happiness is and how to avoid suffering by developing wisdom.
Learning even such a simple idea takes a long time. Don’t worry about being able to follow it completely yet; you have already absorbed that wisdom into your subconsciousness. Slowly it will become clearer, moving into your heart and mind. One day you will be able to talk about it with a free heart and clear mind. When that day comes, you will know that you don’t have to search for Spirits any more. You have already become Spirits.
Spirits is to have complete wisdom to understand life. Spirits is to have an open heart without fear and a brave heart to help everyone. Spirits is a joyful heart, feeling that life is perfect. Spirits is a sharing heart to reveal all the wisdom and compassion. That power is inside you, waiting for you to take care of it, to develop it, and make it open.
This post is taken from a talk by Forever Wisdom Forest on 20 November 2011 at the Sydney dojo.