Good evening, dear friends. I am going to keep my talk very short so that we have time for community sharing. Yesterday we had a wonderful retreat with about thirty persons spending the whole day in mindfulness together, and that was our answer to the insanity of the world. I hope each one of you did something yesterday to practice peace on September 11, 9-11.
We do not need to give so much attention and power to those who are acting out of their ego insanity, like the pastor who was burning Korans. You know, he only has fifty members in his church. He is not that big of a deal, but the ego likes to make itself feel like it is a big deal. But a mature response not from the ego but from our true spirit is just to smile, and send lovingkindness, and not pay him any attention, not give him all the media attention and power. Don't give it to them. Don't do that. Just do something else. Do something for peace, you know? And of course, Korans were burned yesterday and effigies of those burning Korans were burned. It is just insanity. It is just the ego being its insane self.
And instead of reacting, we can simply respond from a place of peace and mindfulness and love and wisdom. It was beautiful. All thirty of us in the retreat yesterday, we did not have a lot of words yesterday. It was mostly about practice and not really about words, although we also had words, too. Just our presence. Just our practice is the answer that the world desperately needs to hear. Just our presence. Just our practice is what is most essential and needed today. And out of that presence and practice then when there needs to be words and actions, they will come from that place of deep wisdom and compassion.
You know, in Asian spirituality, there is a lot of emphasis placed on images and statues, especially in India, to give imagery to the ultimate reality which is beyond all images. Buddhism, when it was started out of that context in India, for the first few hundred years, there were no images in Buddhism, because the whole point of the teaching of the Buddha was to go beyond all images to reality itself, which is beyond all images, and of course Buddha, being very interfaith, he did not deny or suppress or stop people from wanting images. That was fine, but the point is beyond all the images, what is the reality? What is the experience of truth here?
Eventually, though, because Buddhism was trying to survive and adapt and make itself relevant to where people were at, around 500 years after the Buddha taught, there began to be statues made and images and a very beautiful one, one of the images and statues is of Kuan Yin, the motherly love of all Buddhas, the compassionate expression of our true nature. One of the artistic renditions is of Kuan Yin with a thousand arms. Now, many of us Westerners when we enter into a Buddhist temple today, we might be freaked out because it looks like a monastery, and it looks like idols, but remember that this was started many hundreds of years ago in a context where everyone had all of these different thousand-armed images or four-armed images or whatever having different symbolisms, so Buddhism was just trying to make itself relevant and adaptable to those needs.
And of course, today in Buddhism, the Western expressions are finding more and more simplification of the imagery. Why? Because in American culture, especially in the Protestant-influenced cultures, simplicity is a key part of how we express our spirituality. Instead of lots and lots of images of statues, maybe just one cross or one image or whatever, just keeping things simple. And so you will see some of the expressions of the new ways of expressing Buddhism in this country is simplifying the imagery to adapt to the culture.
But, what does this thousand-armed Kuan Yin stand for? If you'll notice, in each hand, there is an eye, and this is a very wonderful symbol. The thousand arms means compassionate action to help all beings. But the eye is very important in those hands, because that symbolizes wisdom, the ability to see clearly as we are acting in the world, because without clear vision, clear understanding, and wisdom of what is truly needed, we could act, but it is not necessarily acting from the deepest wisdom and compassion. It may be acting out of other things, like pity or—good intentions, but it may be doing more harm than good if it is not out of wisdom and clear understanding.
Many times what happens is many activists are doing good things, and they have good intentions, but sometimes if it is not out of that wisdom eye, it can divide people. They can kind of project the enemy onto those who are opposing their activism, you see? It creates a greater divide, more of this partisanship rather than partnership. Ooh, I like that. You know, we want to move from partisanship to partnership.
So, Kuan Yin is simply a 2D image or a 3D image, a 2D/3D mirror really—is not an idol. It is a mirror. So every time we see an icon or a statue of a beautiful being of wisdom and compassion, it is a mirror reflecting back to us who we really are, what we can become, what we are called to become in this world today. Ultimately, you are Kuan Yin. You are Buddha.
Yesterday morning when I entered into the meditation hall, there was a very, very loud cricket sound. It was so loud, it seemed to echo throughout the entire room. So I looked for it, but every time I got closer, it stopped. And I was thinking to myself, oh, I need to find the cricket, because it is going to be cricketing throughout the whole day of mindfulness, and some people might not be able to practice with that. Some of them might be able to. But I was very diligent. I snuck up. When it would sound again, I just snuck up very slowly so it would not hear me, and I looked over here. I went over there. And finally, I found it.
Let me tell you a little bit more. The night before, I had watered the plants, and I left the lamps on because I wanted the plants to feel loved, and I even left the CD player on with Buddhist chanting to help the plants feel the love energy from the chanting. So I left it on all night. And lo and behold, the cricket was right next to the CD player singing to the tune. It just brought a beautiful smile to my face, and so I quickly, gently caught the cricket and put him outside, and I prayed for him that he would be reborn in his next life in some way, in some form that he would be able to chant to his heart's desire.
Kuan Yin has so many messages for us today. Compassion speaks forth to our hearts and from our hearts. Let us use our wisdom eye and our compassionate hands to allow our presence and our practice to be of benefit to all beings, and even in our serious activism and our work and transforming the world and even the difficulty of holding the suffering of all beings in our heart together—not alone, but together—in that, please remember that the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, Kuan Yin is also gently always smiling and is able to find the little crickets chirping to the chanting CD. Who even in the midst of—like Thich Nhat Hanh says in one of his poems—carrying one of his dead comrades from the Vietnam War—carrying him home to his mother, even while doing that, being able to find the little flower on the side of the road smiling at him. This is one meaning of Om Mani Padme Hum.
Om Mani Padme Hum.
Audience: Om Mani Padme Hum.