Thank you, dear friends, for your practice. So tonight I would just like to talk about some of my favorite Buddhist spiritual heroes of peace. I will start off with my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. I won't be going into all of their details and stories, just little stories of things that have inspired me.
Some of you may remember. I shared this a while back. When I was at Plum Village in France at Thich Nhat Hanh's retreat center, I wanted to give him a little gift that I had gotten from Hong Kong. It was a little bit—it was a cross with a lotus flower holding the cross, and it symbolized the united wisdom of the Christ and Buddha. I wanted to give it to him in honor of his wonderful book that he wrote, Living Buddha, Living Christ and also Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. But I did not know how I was going to give it to him. He is always with his monks and nuns in an entourage. I was a little bit shy about just going up to him.
So I decided that one morning before the dharma talk when he walked in that I would just sit in the front row and then as he walked by, what I did was I just stepped forward and made a bow, and of course, he had to stop, and he was a little bit startled by, what is going on? And so I immediately just handed him the gift into his hands. At first, he did not know what it was. He was like, what is this? And when he saw what it was, I think that in that moment, he understood the meaning of the gift, and he smiled. When he saw what it was, he smiled, and in that smile, I felt a wave of energy kind of like a silent sonic boom just come from his heart as he smiled. It filled the whole room, rippled across, but it hit me because I was so close, right in the heart, and my heart just started to tremble, and I started to shake, my whole body just felt so much love emanating from this beautiful being called Thich Nhat Hanh.
So that was one of my first experiences of being in the presence of someone who is very highly evolved and awakened and feeling their energy, the energy of their heart. So now I do not doubt the stories that I hear when people talk about things like that happening. I have first-hand experience with that. A few years ago, I saw the movie called, I think, Beyond Rangoon, and it was about Myanmar or Burma and the struggle for democracy there. There was this scene in the movie that really touched my heart. It's this Buddhist woman, a Democratic leader who has been put under house arrest so many years by the military government, even though she has been elected several times to be president, but they will not allow her to be. And there is going to be a wonderful new movie about her life coming out sometime soon about a love story between her and her husband and her family as well as the political aspects of her life, her career.
But there's this one scene where she and all of her students and followers peacefully walked into the main square, but they were being blocked by all of the soldiers with their guns pointed at all of these hundreds of people who are just going to simply have a peaceful rally, no weapons, no violence. And she walked right up to one of the soldiers in the line that was blocking her, and she just looked at him and smiled, and you could tell that the soldier was very nervous. He was a very young soldier. He was probably around 17 or 18 years old, and he did not want to kill her because she was a woman and also she was a peaceful person, and he was shaking. She saw that, and she had compassion for him, but she boldly—and they were yelling at her, like, "If you move. If you go past us, we're going have to kill you all." And she said, "Well, then you're going to have to kill us all." And she walked right through the soldiers, and everyone else did also, peacefully, and none of the soldiers fired. When I saw that, I was so touched by that scene, and I realized that there really are strong, brave bodhisattvas, spiritual carriers of peace in the world.
Another spiritual hero of mine is a woman named Dipa Ma, who passed away a few years ago. She lived in India, and she was a Buddhist saint. She had a lot of suffering in her life. She had a lot of illness. She was basically dying, and then her husband died, and she had to take care of her children by herself, but she couldn't. She had very little health left, and she was very depressed, and so she finally just gave her children to her relative and said, "This is my last chance. If I do not practice meditation now, I don't know when I will ever get to before I die." She wanted to do it before, but her husband would not let her, because she had to take care of the family and the household. He did not want her going away for so many days for retreat. But now she had nothing to stop her, so she went and she practiced so diligently day after day after day, even though she found it very difficult, very painful.
She did finally have a breakthrough, and according to her meditation teacher, she actually even realized the first stage of enlightenment in just a few weeks, so dedicated was she to the practice. And in that moment of breakthrough, her health completely shifted, and all of her illness was vanished, and she became after that very strong, and she lived for many, many years after that and taught other people the path of enlightenment, especially to housewives in India who would work at home all the time, who didn't have time to go to meditation retreats. So she taught them to stir the pot when you're cooking your dinner very mindfully and do a slow boil so it takes at least 20 minutes, so you can get a full meditation practice there. It is said that a few of those housewives actually did have virtual breakthroughs because of that practice and even realized the first stage of enlightenment.
People who would go to see her before she died, they would walk up the steps to her apartment, and they could already feel this energy inundating from her apartment, and when they would open the door and she would welcome them, the first thing she did, no matter who it was, even your pets or whatever or even your dog, she would lay her hands on you and bless you and say a Buddhist prayer of metta lovingkindness for you. And many people said that the moment she would lay hands on their head, they would feel as if liquid light and love just poured through their whole body and mind and for several minutes they were just in bliss, and all of their worries and stresses were banished for a few minutes as they just realized pure love in that moment.
One of the amazing things about Dipa Ma also is in her particular tradition of Buddhism and in her culture over there, many of the men would sometimes say, "You know, women cannot be fully enlightened. They have to be reborn as men first before they can be fully enlightened, because women by their nature are less capable of the deepest practices." She would just look at them like, I can do anything a man can do and better. And it was true. She out-practiced all of the other people including the men. So I love that about her spirit.
Another woman is a Korean nun, a Buddhist nun. She passed away recently, and I'm very sad about that, because I always wanted to meet her. Maybe I will have to meet her in a new life, but she was an amazing person. When she was a child during some of the war times in Korea, her whole family was stripped of their wealth and became impoverished because her father was a general on the other side that didn't win the war. And she was out in the countryside in nature, and her father was very mean to her and cruel, and so many times she would just play outside in the hills in the words amongst the trees by herself, and she found a lot of solace in nature as a teenage girl.
And one day, she suddenly felt that the true source of her life was within her and all around her. She suddenly felt this. It had been there all along, and she felt so happy. She did not know what to call this, so she called it uppa, which in Korean means daddy. It was her true daddy, the true source of love, her true foundation, her true ground of being. Of course, she was only a teenage girl, and she was not educated in Buddhist philosophy. She did not know any other way of expressing. She just said, "Uppa. Uppa." She would just say, "Uppa," everywhere in nature. She would just say, "Uppa," to the trees, "Uppa," to the sky, "Uppa," was in her heart, "Uppa," to the streams of water. And she knew from that point forward that there was pure love at the core of her being, always taking care of her.
She laughed when she was telling these stories, saying, "Well, you know, years later of course I realized that this was actually Buddha nature, but it did not matter. As an innocent little girl, I just called it with whatever word seems to fit in that moment," because her earthly father was not very kind to her at all, but she knew that her true nature, her Buddha nature, was pure love and was her true father. She had many, many, wonderful experiences through the practice of meditation when she became a Buddhist nun, including one day just completely being filled with light and seeing the light shine for miles all around her and being filled with a sense of light of the Buddha, knowing that the Buddha's light is very real.
I guess I didn't realize I was going to talk about so many women, but that is wonderful. There is also a Buddhist priest in Japan. Her name is Giko Kono. And in Japan, there are not that many female Buddhist priests. Most of the priests are male, in Japan anyway. In Taiwan, it is a completely different story. In Taiwan, most of the monastics are nuns. They are the majority in Chinese Taiwan. But in Japan, usually it is mostly men who are the Buddhist priests. But she is the rare individual. She is a very wonderful person, and I was very inspired by the story of hers and one of her books.
She talks about her near-death experience. "I once suffered from acute peritonitis and hovered between life and death. In an out-of-body experience, I saw the river that divides the living from the dead, which most Japanese think of as the Sanzu no Kawa, River of the Three Ways. It was a beautiful, large river with two boats floating on it. One boat was already filled with people. I was led by the Buddha of the other boats in which I was to be carried to the world of the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas. The Buddha told me to sit on the lotus flower in the boat in which many Buddhas were lined up in rows. Just as I was thinking how grateful I was, I suddenly realized that I had not yet managed to ensure that my third son would be married and that my role as a mother was still unfinished. I cannot die I told myself. Just as I was explaining this to the Buddha, I returned to my body, and the doctor and my family members were looking on relieved."
I love that, and it just gives me great joy to hear stories about people's experiences who are genuine, and since I believe in her as a genuine person, I believe in her story, and I've heard other stories about things I've read and also stories that people told me personally about their near-death experiences, so I definitely believe that there is love and light that meets us at the end of this life—and that love and light will meet us appropriately for us. So as an 8-year-old child, a Roman Catholic girl, she's not going to see the Buddha. It might scare her. She does not know who that is. So our loved ones on the other side aren't going to shock us with something were not familiar with. They're going to meet us with where we're at. So what is that 8-year-old girl going to see? Most likely, an angel or Mary or Jesus, because out of compassion, our spiritual friends and teachers will greet us in the way that we can relate to to transition us.
And so, I hope when I pass away, I will see both Buddha and Jesus. That would be kind of nice. But anyway, whoever we meet at the end of this life, it will be the right and appropriate way for us, perhaps our grandparents or our relatives or someone else or just beings of light that have no denomination. But it is very comforting to know that we come from light and love, and we move—even in this world that sometimes seems dark, there is actually love and light here also, and we always move forward it and we come to love and light in the end as well.
But what is interesting about Buddhist teachings on death and the afterlife is that when you die, that is not the end, and even the heavenly realm that creates us is not the end of the story either. When we enter into the Pure Land of the Buddha, it is just a temporary place to refresh us, to train us, and to encourage us and to empower us so that we can come back and help beings in this world or other realms. So the Pure Land is not the same thing as heaven. The Pure Land is simply a place to, well, remind us that we are home, that we are loved, encourage us and train us, empower us, and then send us back to come back serve and to share that light and to keep coming back over and over and over again until all beings can enter into the Pure Land together.
Oh, I also want to mention Master Shengyin. At least one male person. I have already mentioned this before and another talk, but I really like Master Shengyin's story. He was a monk and he was just really—he felt like he was really dumb and he couldn't memorize any of the chants or the Scriptures, and he didn't understand any of the meanings of any of the sutras, and he just felt really dumb. So he asked his Zen master to help them, and so his Zen master told him, "Well, maybe you need to do some purification practices to help purify your karma and remove obstructions."
By the way, this reminds me of another monk friend of mine that I know, so I want to make sure to share that story with you also. So help me not forget. So, Master Shengyin followed his master's orders or suggestions and bowed several hundred times every day, full prostrations almost on the floor in front of the Buddha altar and chanting the name of the Buddhas, especially the name of Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. And so he did this all day long for several days, and finally one day, as he was practicing with this whole heart, suddenly there is this feeling of energy the just rushed through his whole body, and in that moment, everything was so clear. From that point forward, it was so easy for him to memorize sutras and Scriptures and chants and understand the meaning of these teachings very deeply.
And of course, he eventually later became enlightened and became a teacher of Zen in—Chinese Zen in America before he passed away. And is also in Taiwan known as one of the four dharma kings, four major Buddhist teachers in Taiwan who have made a major impact on Buddhism. And by the way, one of those four dharma kings is a woman, a Buddhist nun, who actually they have a branch here in Dallas just a few blocks from here, Tzu Chi, the Buddhist compassionate relief organization. They help send supplies and help whenever there are disasters from hurricanes and earthquakes and things like that. So it is a wonderful organization. She has three hospitals in Taiwan for those who cannot afford medical care. She is a true bodhisattva as well.
I also want to mention I had a monk friend who is a Korean monk several years ago, and he told me this really amazing story about contracting a very, very terrible disease that usually does not go away, and he was very sad about it, and so he did his monastic practice of chanting with all of his heart. He used his mak-tak and did his chanting, and he did it for hours. The lady who was in charge of cleaning the temple actually got worried that he was going crazy because he would not stop chanting at the top of his voice and banging that thing, but he was like determined not to let this disease take his life and ruin his life.
So he did it for several hours past midnight, and suddenly, he felt this energy surge through his body, and he knew in that moment that he was healed. And in fact, when he went to see the doctor, there was no trace of the disease at all. It was not even there. And this is not just something I read. This is from a friend of mine in Korea, someone I know, who I trust, and so I know there is real power to this practice, that it is not just—it is not just to help us feel more peaceful. It actually creates transformative, powerful, real change, and it can be felt tangibly in our lives and by others.
I guess I will close with one last sharing from a non-Buddhist. Reverent John Dudley Price is an Episcopal priest and chaplains in a hospital in Houston, and he wrote a book this year called Revealing Heaven: The Christian Case for Near Death Experiences. And I love it, because it really is very helpful, especially to those from a Christian background, and I might give it to my Southern Baptist family members. But I love it because he has personally heard hundreds of cases of people having near-death experiences at the hospital, and what he found interesting is that not only did Christians experience love and light and heavenly experiences, but also Buddhists and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and those of no faith at all, and he was kind of surprised.
And so he kept looking into more and more stories, and he had a few people who are gay and lesbian, and when they had their life review, being gay or lesbian didn't even matter at all to the heavenly beings. What mattered was, did you love? Did you serve? Did you live a life of compassion? Did you do what you knew that was right? These were the things that mattered. But what is interesting—my favorite stories from this book is that there were three fundamentalist ministers from very, very hellfire and brimstone kinds of churches that preached for many years how most everyone is going to hell and you got to believe a certain way or else you're going to be damned and that God was not the loving kind of God that most people think of, but a vengeful, wrathful God. Well, they were shocked when they died and went to heaven. And they realized, oh my gosh. We were wrong. God is love. And our message was all wrong.
So when they came back to preach a different kind of message, a loving message to their congregation, they started losing members of their churches, and eventually they were fired from their churches. They just cannot handle this message of love. My goodness. But anyway, I just find that just very, very, very, encouraging to know that really, the true—you know, we're not just talking hypothesis here. Our message actually is the truth. The message of love is the truth. It is not a hopeful guess. You know, maybe the fundamentals are correct. No. We are the bearers of the truth and love and light is the truth. Anything else is not the truth, but only love and light is the truth. So of course, that truth is expressed in many ways, in Buddhist ways, Jewish ways, Christian ways, Hindu ways, secular ways. Truth cannot be held and imprisoned by any kind of human viewpoint. However, we use whatever human understanding that is helpful for us, and we use it skillfully to better our lives and sort of continue on the path of love and light and express it in our own, unique ways.
I am very, very happy to benefit from the Buddhist particular way that it understands the love and light, but I also know that the love and light cannot be confined in any tradition. But use whatever tradition is helpful for you. You know? It is like this lamp. The light is in there, but some people might like a cylindrical lampshade or a round lampshade or maybe a Buddhist lampshade or a Krishna lampshade, but beyond the lampshade is the light, and the light is universal. So, enjoy your Buddhist lampshade or your Christian lampshade or whatever lampshade you like, but remember that the lampshade is not what is most important, but the light is what is important. So, if a Buddhist lampshade helps you to shine the light, then go ahead and do that. I find the Buddhist lampshade to be the most helpful for me. So, enjoy your lampshades, but remember that it is the light—it is the light that is more important. So don't get into religious wars over lampshades. Don't argue about different kinds of lampshades. Just remember that you are the light, and let the light of love shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.