There is so much we can teach on Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, but we have only just begun a few things. I am noticing in my own personal life that Quan Yin is more important to me now than ever in my life. In most artistic renditions of Quan Yin, she has a headdress, and in the top part of the headdress, there is always the image of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light and infinite love and infinite life.
To me, all of these different cosmic Buddhas and bodhisattvas are both—I am not sure what the right English word would be, but they are both symbolic and real at the same time. I think human mental concepts and understandings cannot really fully grasp these cosmic realities with human language. But we are humans, and we have language, so we have to use human language to talk about these things.
What I mean by saying they are symbolic is, well, at least on the earth, there was never a historical person named Amitabha Buddha, or perhaps there wasn't even a historical person named Avalokiteshvara or Quan Yin. So in that sense, they are symbolic of the qualities of love and compassion that are our true nature manifested in these of symbolic forms.
However, I also consider them real at the same time because the energy that they represent—the love, the compassion, the light—is real. And whenever someone on earth embodies the qualities of this kind of love and compassion and light, then they become a channel of that Buddha energy, that bodhisattva energy. And every time we chant the name of Amitabha or chant "Om mani padme hum," which is the main mantra of Avalokiteshvara, any time we evoke that quality through our practice, I believe that we are getting in touch with the energy field that many others in the past have helped to create.
So I believe there is an infinite life and love and light already existing as the basis of our reality that holds everything with compassion. So that is real, and then when a person on earth awakens to those qualities and fully embodies those qualities in their life, they become like an icon kind of giving us a glimpse of that infinite reality through a human being, and then they start creating this energy field. In Buddhism we call it Buddha-kshetra, which has been translated as Pure Land, but really, it literally means Buddha field, a field of Buddha nature, a field of Buddha enlightenment, a field of Buddha wisdom and compassion. Then they start to emit and radiate that, and it affects others, and then a whole community and many communities. And a movement begins that affects the rest of the world eventually.
And as we keep practicing chanting, meditating, or whatever practice to help us attune to this energy of compassion, then we add to that energy field. Every single practice through the centuries, we all add to that energy, and now in the twenty-first century, we are the heirs of all the love, all the compassion that has ever been practiced throughout space and time, and we also add to that energy for future generations. Isn't that wonderful? So we receive and give simultaneously whenever we chant and whenever we meditate.
And I believe that Quan Yin has manifested many, many times on earth through just many different human beings, whether full-time for their whole life or just part-time. Sometimes we are not fully enlightened, but we have moments and we are fully in touch with that true heart of compassion and wisdom, and we have a thought or a word or an action that is truly an expression of Quan Yin or of Buddha.
And you know, to me, they are all just different human symbolic representations of this one true nature. One Buddha nature, with many different ways of expressing those qualities symbolically. See, Amitabha Buddha, really, Quan Yin is the energy of Amitabha Buddha, but because of the limitations of human language, Amitabha Buddha is supposed to stay in his Pure Land, in his realm of beauty and bliss, and he is teaching all of these beings—many, many beings—so that they can become enlightened. So he has a pretty big job. So, what about people here on earth? It was impossible because of the way the story was told to say, "Well, Amitabha comes down to earth," which he cannot, according to our human limitations on the story.
So, guess what? Avalokiteshvara, Amitabha's assistant, he/she/it comes down from the cosmic realms to the earth and appears through humans or whatever you need, maybe even—I know Native Americans, they have spirit guides who are animal guides, and I believe that can also be an expression of Avalokiteshvara appearing as an animal. But Avalokiteshvara will appear in any way you need, and maybe even appear as a good friend when you really need a listening ear. You see?
So, I think the reason why Avalokiteshvara and Quan Yin are so important to me these days is because I have done a lot of the more masculine energy of doing my best to keep my spiritual practice and to figure out which modalities are best for my healing from cancer and other things, and I am exhausted from all of that. And so, I just want to give up sometimes because this is so much work. And then, Quan Yin and her motherly, compassionate, gentle energy just wraps me and reminds me that it is okay. You do not have to do it all. Let the universe just help you. You do not have to do it all by yourself.
So I love that energy. It is just another way of reminding myself that there is that motherly, compassionate, heart energy available to me, and when I feel like giving up or I feel afraid, I can call upon my divine mother. So at the end of our meditation, when we were given the option to pray silently during part of it, I just visualized Quan Yin as a motherly figure just all over the world, just putting her hand on a dying patient, putting her hand on a soldier, putting her hand on all kinds of people.
So, Quan Yin is an extension of this Amitabha Buddha energy of light and love and life, which is a representation of our infinite Buddha nature, which is who we really are and what the universe is really all about, even though as human beings we have a temporary amnesia and temporary delusion about things, but that is okay. You know, the Buddha totally understands.
We might think the Buddha is like some sort of grandfatherly figure or something that is going to beat us until we get enlightened or something, because that might be a carryover from some of our religious stories from our upbringing, but that is not true. There is only love and compassion. Sometimes a Buddha or bodhisattva might have to manifest a little bit of tough love energy when necessary. That is true. Let me tell you, I have had my fill of those as well, but honestly at the end of the day, even if tough love to manifest for your benefit, you can still rest in the loving embrace of compassion.
So, there are many stories that have been cultivated and developed over the centuries, especially in China, of various incarnations, if you will, of Avalokiteshvara. You know, people, especially women, seem to really embody the qualities of this bodhisattva of love. And these stories, whether they are literal or not, it doesn't matter. What they are trying to help us to do is to realize how pervasive she is in our lives, to not take for granted and not miss out on noticing. Because we can get really drowned in our own dramas. One day I'm going to make a bumper sticker that says, "Try dharma, not drama." And you know, we all have dramas, but it is our choice and our power to choose dharma in every drama that we experience.
You know, I have a friend that recently has been going through so many different changes, and it is kind of overwhelming, and I totally get that. I mean, I totally get that. And so I said, "Let us pull a card from my deck of spiritual cards and see if our angels or guides or bodhisattvas—whatever you want to call them—might give us a little helpful hint on what to do with all of this drama that is going on." And so we pulled the card, "Please get over yourself." I love that. You know? That's kind of like a tough love moment with compassion, a gentleness, with it. It is not like (uses harsh voice), "Get over yourself!" It is like, "Oh, honey. Get over yourself." You know? Like that.
And it is true. We all have things happening in our lives, at different times more intense than others, but if we do not choose dharma in those situations, we can easily, easily fall into the trap of being drowned in the drama. So that is why we have to keep practicing and choosing in every moment, because one of the things that helped me get through some of this stuff a few months ago was I have to keep practicing my gratitude practice. Because all I am saying to myself in my head and to others is, "Blah, blah, blah," what is not going right. And then guess what? That is what is filling my whole consciousness, and I feel worse. That is why you have to turn it around with simple practices like gratitude. I am grateful.
For example, right now, I am blind in my right eye from the tumor, and because it has been so long, the doctor thinks that the optic nerve is damaged long-term. I'm not going to say permanent, because nothing is permanent, right? But long term. And I'm starting to have some dimness in my left eye, which scares me. I don't know what is causing that, and I don't know if it is going to get worse or not, but instead of focusing on, "Oh my God, I'm going to be blind," and so on, it's like, "Well, what do I know right now? I don't know anything about tomorrow, but what I do know is right now, I can see. Even in limitation, I can see green and red and blue and beige and pink. I can see candles. I'm just so grateful that right now in this moment, I can see." And I can't read all the small print books I have, but I found which ones are larger print, and I am so glad I can read those.
And the more I do that, the less overwhelmed I get by the drama. And I believe that gratitude is really the primary practice of those who follow the teachings of Amitabha and Quan Yin. It is just all about shifting our perspective, remembering. The practice of chanting the name of a Buddha or bodhisattva over and over and over again in Sanskrit is called buddhaanusmrti, and that means "mindfulness of Buddha." Or in other words, remember what is true. You know? Buddhaanusmrti. And earlier, I said the word Buddha-kshetra, which means Buddha field or the Pure Land.
So, in our practice, we follow the teachings primarily of Thich Nhat Hanh, who has made the practice very available to us, especially through mindfulness practice. But actually, Thich Nhat Hanh is within the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition, the larger Vietnamese Buddhist tradition, so everything he does has been influenced by that, too. So even though he may not share all of the things with Vietnamese Buddhism with Western students, it is there in a little hint in his teachings. Obviously, he is a Zen teacher, but in Vietnamese Buddhism, there is a spirit of harmony between the Zen meditation practice and chanting, gratitude practice, like the Pure Land, as well as the mindfulness, the simple mindfulness practice of mindful living, such as in the Theravada tradition.
So these three large traditions—Zen, Pure Land, and Theravada—they all manifest in different ways in our practice, so you will notice that we do not really look like other traditions, especially like Japanese Zen traditions. And we do not look like a Pure Land tradition totally either. And we do not really look like the Theravada tradition only, and it is because we are synthesizing, blending some of the best from all three in our practice. Whatever is actually working, whatever is actually helpful, whatever is actually relevant in our modern society.
I kind of like that. Some people think that is impure Buddhism, but honestly, what really matters is not your ism, but how are you being light and love and life in the world? If you are increasing your light and love and life because of this practice, then it is good. Then it is working, and it is fine. Talking about pure and impure, many of the stories about Avalokiteshvara or Quan Yin are all about the different women especially, and sometimes men, who kind of do not fit into the box and do all kinds of weird crazy things to be helpful.
There is this story, which I doubt is literal, but its point is to say Quan Yin can be anywhere and take any form if it helps someone. There is the story in China of Quan Yin incarnating as this young woman who becomes a prostitute and all the men she sees, afterwards, after she has sexual intimacy with them, they completely lose all their sexual desire and become celibate monks and walk on the path of enlightenment. Oh goodness. Again, I don't take these stories literally, but why have these stories evolved? That is the question. What is the point of the story? It is just to say any human activity, any human realm, anything can still have a manifestation of that compassion coming through. So just look for it.
See? That is what gratitude does. It makes you more able to see it. When you are not practicing gratitude regularly, no matter what good things may be going your way, you do not even see it, right? So we want to see, and to see is part of our mindfulness practice, isn't it? To really see. So really, mindfulness and gratitude are not separate. And that is why I also believe Zen and Theravada, which emphasize meditation and mindful living, and chanting and gratitude like the Pure Land teaches, they are not different. They are not separate. Well, they are different forms of the practices, but they are not separate. Mindfulness and gratitude go together. That is why I think prayer and meditation go together, too. All kinds of our practices go together, and that is why we have walking and sitting. They kind of balance each other out. They go together.
And a deep study of the teachings with our mind is important, but also when we do not fully understand things that we have to try to see from our heart, you see? There are many things that we may not fully understand with our mind yet, but we can know it in our heart. So we need to cultivate our heart energy as well as our mind energy. And of course, we do this all in a physical body, and if we do not take care of our physical body, it makes it more difficult for us, doesn't it? So we need to do that.
I don't know how this is related, but I think I am supposed to share this with you, and maybe my heart knows how it is related even though my mind doesn't. I just wanted to share with you some little insight that kind of came to me this weekend at the Jesuit retreat center. It was just very nice to be with peaceful people and a silent setting in nature. Very, very nice. Lots of beautiful statues of Mary everywhere, whom I think of as an expression of that one in energy.
So, we have the earth here. We have different realms of existence. So basically, what came to me was just—again, if anything that is a graphic for a teaching like this, I don't want you to take it literally. I am just using it as a teaching device, a way of skillfully kind of bringing some ideas that might be helpful. Now in Buddhism, they have much more detailed realms of existence, and in other traditions they have all sorts of things. So this is a simplified version, which came to me this weekend as I entered into the silence. And whenever you just enter into the silence, some insight may arise for you.
So anyway, the first realm is the infinite realm, so it covers the entire whiteboard and beyond. So that is the infinite realm of the ultimate reality. You might call that the dharmakaya, Buddha nature. If you come from a theistic religious background, you may call this God or the Godhead or divinity. And then there is also the realm of Buddhas. So we have ultimate reality and the realm of Buddhas.
If you are speaking from a different tradition than Buddhism, then I would say the realm of the fully enlightened. You might include Christ into that category if you wish. Then there is the realm of the bodhisattvas. And honestly, when this idea first kind of came to me, these two realms are not really separate. It is a realm of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, because all Buddhas always have bodhisattvas around them, because the Buddhas are training them, the Buddhas going around helping us bring in the light. But just for this purpose, I thought I would separate them. So, the Buddhas are the fully enlightened, and the bodhisattvas are enlightened. Maybe they are not fully enlightened, but they are enlightened in some way. So you might put different saints and things like that in that category if you wish.
The fourth realm is the realm of good souls. And I hesitate to use the word good, but that is sort of the simple language around good souls. They are not enlightened yet, but they are good. And so another way of saying it is expansive or expanding or expanded. I like expanding because it is still in process. Expanding souls might be a better term than good.
And then there is the realm of average souls. It is just not meant to be derogatory at all, so I thought maybe a better way of saying it is—well, maybe this is not so good either—mixed. Mixed souls. Basically, you are not only good, and you are not only bad. You are just a human being with a blend of good and bad. You are still working through stuff. You are an average soul or a being. Some just do not like the word soul, but I am just using it for simple teaching purposes.
Then, there is this realm of—I really don't want to use the word bad soul at all really, though I am not going to use that. I'm going to cross out bad. I thought of a better word: contracting souls or contracted.
Audience Member: Is that number seven?
ChiSing: Six. Six. So, souls who are so for whatever reason, the choices they made, the lies they believe, the experiences they have suffered through, for some reason, they just keep making the choice to contract their heart instead of expanding their heart, and after a while, after so many contractions, it feels like hell for them. But the good news in Buddhism is hell is not a permanent realm. You might go through a hell-like experience in your life, but it is not permanent, because guess what? Even hell is surrounded by the infinite realm of ultimate reality, which is always holding us, in whatever realm we find ourselves in. So alternate reality, the infinite realm, it embraces all of us in whatever role we find ourselves in, to lead us toward enlightenment.
And then I kind of think of the physical earth as a seventh realm, the realm of the earth. And the way I graphed it should show you that all the other six realms, are based around or they touch the earth realm. So in other words, this is just to illustrate that you can find people on the earth that may embody one of these realms. So our earth realm is all the other realms existing together here in a mixture, which is challenging, isn't it? And we all are learning here on earth how to get along, how to deal with each other, how to help each other, or sometimes when you can't do anything else, how do just to get out of the way or at least do not do more harm.
So anyway, I just found this helpful to me. I don't necessarily have to take it literally, and you should not either, but it just helped me to just kind of wrap it this way, to realize that we are who we are and we have somewhere to go, being and doing. So enlightenment is our true nature and enlightenment is our destination, and we move toward it. It is both a being nature as well as an active growing process as well. So I think most of you here are probably average to good souls. There might be some secret bodhisattvas in here, you know? It's always nice to have those in the group. And we had Shakyamuni Buddha here on the earth 2,600 years ago, so we have them all here on this planet.
So the reason why I am saying that is because sometimes in more progressive spiritual teachings, we only want to talk about love and light, but if you want to be real, a real spirituality, you have to include this other stuff. You can't ignore it. You can't ignore suffering amidst delusion. There is a book that Rabbi Lawrence Kushner wrote a long time ago, which I read in elementary school, because my teacher said I should read that. I was sort of like a good Catholic boy, telling all of my classmates to believe in Jesus, which is good. And so she was Jewish, and she was like, "Why don't you read this book by this Rabbi? You might find it enlightening." It actually was very helpful. It is the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I liked that book because it made me think. It made me think. So if you ever have a chance to read the book, go ahead. It is a classic.
But we can't ignore that there are weird tragedies that happen in our lives. There are bad things. There is suffering. There is delusion. There are souls that are really, really contracted. But we have to account for that, too, and we do. We recognize the possibility. We all have the power of choice, the power of choice, and when you add up all the choices, which is karma, the action of choice, it creates things, both personally and collectively, and sometimes it is your own personal karma. Sometimes it is someone else's karma that is manifesting, and you just happened to be in the way.
But through all of that, guess what? The bodhisattvas travel into every single realm. There is a bodhisattva called Ksitigarbha, and the artists render him as a monk with a staff and with six rings on the staff and a beautiful jewel in his hand that shines light. And what this represents is that bodhisattva intention, because in this story of Ksitigarbha, he goes into the hell realms shedding light, offering dharma and solace, with his staff pounding on the floor, with the rings making sounds, and it alerts people. There is hope. And also to ward off any negative energies in front of his path, just let them scurry away.
And so, he is called a fearless bodhisattva. He is not afraid to go into war zones, hell realms, the deepest kinds of suffering. I am so grateful that this is a quality of the bodhisattva heart. And this of course is manifested in Quan Yin as well. You know, they are all really the same Buddha nature, just different. As humans we like to differentiate the qualities to help us kind of really get each quality. So this quality is fearlessness, and Avalokiteshvara is compassion, and Manjusri is wisdom, and there are many, many other bodhisattvas which embody these different qualities. And next week, we will talk about Medicine Buddha of Healing, the medicinal and healing quality of our Buddha nature and how it manifests in our lives.
So I'm going to conclude with reading a prayer that Thomas Merton, the famous Catholic monk, wrote in the twentieth century. Sometimes I wonder if there is some energetic relationship that I have with him because he died in the same month that I was conceived, so I would find this connection, and I don't know why. So he is going to talk, of course, in his Christian language. So just re-translate it in your mind if you wish. This is really my prayer, too, because when I think of Buddha and Quan Yin, Avalokiteshvara, or even Mother Mary—any of the other beings that embody this heart of motherly compassion—that is what I rest in.
During the meditation, some people might have shuffled or snored. I don't know. I can imagine somebody might have had some difficulties at certain points. You know what? I just felt this energy just bathing us, like it is okay. It is okay if you have some wandering thoughts. It is okay if you snore. It is okay if your body was twitching or moving. It is okay. There is only love here for you and support. I just love that. It is a good reminder that sometimes when we get overly masculine about our practice, it can be a little too unbalanced, and I think that is why we have this other aspect that developed to help us.
So here is the prayer by Thomas Merton: "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You, and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. Therefore, I will trust You always. Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone."