All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, the Venerable Master, all Dharma masters, and all wise advisors:Amitabha! Today is Xiaodan’s turn to practice making a report. If I say anything incorrect, please compassionately correct me. Today I would like to share some stories.
Not long ago, we heard the Venerable Master explain the Ten Suchnesses in his commentary on the Dharma Flower Sutra. These Ten Suchnesses are very important to this sutra, so we even listened to them twice! The Venerable Master said that the essential doctrine of the Dharma Flower Sutra is right here in the Ten Suchnesses. In general, all Dharmas do not go beyond the Ten Suchnesses. From here we can see their importance.
The first one of the Ten Suchnesses is The Suchness of The Appearance. The Venerable Master explained that the appearance has a true appearance and a false appearance. The true appearance is, as The Shurangama Sutra states, “The permanently abiding true heart, the bright substance of our pure nature.” It is simply the Real Mark of True Suchness, the Real Mark of all Dharmas. The false appearance is our ignorance. Ignorance is empty and false. It has no real substance. It is only a name.
The false appearance, as The Dharma Flower Sutra states, causes living beings to undergo birth, old age, sickness, and death, worry, sorrow, grief, and misery. It is like being burned in a big fire or boiled in hot water, that is difficult to undergo.” As soon as we were born, we were destined to encounter old age, sickness, and death one day. Only because of our individual karma do some people encounter them sooner or later. Yet in the few decades of our lives, we spend most of our time in worry, sorrow, grief, and misery and bring ourselves much suffering. The Buddha, though, tells us that everything is characterized as false and illusory, as unreal as flowers in empty space or the moon reflection in the water. Aren’t we then very wronged?
I recall one day when I was helping out as a waitress at Jyun Kang that a middle-aged woman walked in and ordered a few dishes to go. After taking her order, I told her that it would take 15 minutes or so. She said the weather was nice and she would wait outside, and I said that I would call her when her order was ready.
After a while four Asian people walked in, one of whom smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. I thought to myself that he probably had just finished smoking in the car. Right after I brought them to a table, the middle-aged woman rushed in and told me to come out for a moment. I went outside with her and saw that she had a cigarette butt that was one-third long left and still smoking in her hand.
She showed it to me and said indignantly, “Look, this was done by those four people who just walked in. They proclaim, ‘I love the Buddha, I love CTTB, yet they smoke and throw cigarette butt on the ground. I’m going to go in and give him a fist to the head.” At this point she raised her fist and swung in the air.
I saw that she was very emotional and casually replied, “We should forgive others.” She suddenly stopped in her tracks and, after taking a while to calm down, said slowly, “Forgiveness is what I need to learn. All these years I have earned degrees in biology and psychology, and I have attained everything I want in the world, but what I needed to learn was actually forgiveness. Thank you, thank you.” I said, “We should forgive others and hope that they can become better people.”
She said, “Yes. I hope that CTTB will help the world become better and more peaceful.” I added, “Yes. We should first be good ourselves and then hope that others can become better.” Her emotions gradually stabilized, and then she gave me a big and very long hug. I could perceive her internal suffering and agony; I don’t know whether she was hurt by someone else, or whether she had some unforgivable experience? I continued, “By forgiving others, we are just forgiving ourselves.”
We should reflect on our lives and on whether there has been someone who has hurt us and whom we have never been able to forgive? Or whether there are people around us who cause us afflictions or cause us to become unhappy? We often complain about our environment or a certain person and claim that this brings us afflictions.
When we are slandered or scolded by others for no reason at all, do we feel furious within? But thinking it over, we have never done what they claimed. They can choose what they want to say, so why get angry over that? With a change of heart, not only will we be no longer angry, we can also forgive the ignorance of others—why not do this then? As we forgive others, we are liberated from this suffering, and actually the true beneficiary is ourselves.
From here we can see that our afflictions are not caused by others, but by our own thoughts. If we can change our thoughts, won’t we have reduced many of our afflictions? Neither the world outside nor the people have changed—only our own thoughts have changed—yet we are serene and harmonious and no longer angry.
Once in class a Dharma Master shared one of her experiences with us. Once when she was at a branch monastery, she became greatly afflicted by another Dharma Master hitting the wooden fish, who also always stood behind her. She just couldn’t bear the way in which this Dharma master hit the wooden fish, so every day during that time she would feel very uncomfortable and afflicted.
In the end she couldn’t take it anymore and told this Dharma Master how to actually hit the wooden fish, but it made no difference. Thus, every time she had to endure the agony of the striking of the wooden fish, which felt like it was striking her heart. She didn’t just endure this for a few days or a few months, but for several years.
One day she had eaten too much for lunch, so it was difficult for her to be wei-nuo for the Great Compassion Repentance and she chanted slowly. But the slower she chanted, the faster the Dharma Master hit the wooden fish behind her. They stood at this impasse for a while, until suddenly the Dharma Master hitting the wooden fish couldn’t bear it anymore and ran out.
At this moment, a vision appeared before her eyes—she had always thought the other Dharma Master wasn’t as good as she was, so that was why she had been continuously afflicted by her. But her one thought of repentance at that moment allowed her to be liberated from this afflicted mind-set, and she felt unprecedented peace and calm within herself. Over the next few months she was always in this lighthearted and calm state, and even though the other Dharma Master kept on hitting the wooden fish in the same way as before, she was no longer negatively influenced, afflicted, or disturbed by her.
External states did not change at all; rather, her internal transformation allowed her to become liberated from her internal pain and affliction. Just as the Venerable Master said, “Those of us who practice the way should often turn states and not let them turn us. This is the way to become liberated from all afflictions and restraints. Affliction is ignorance; wisdom will arise when there is no more affliction.”
Most of the laypeople know a professional barber called Judy who comes monthly to CTTB to cut our hair for free. Her affinities with CTTB originate with her son. Her son was once sent to the front lines in Afghanistan, and as a mother, she naturally was very worried about her son’s safety.
Out of options, she came to CTTB to sincerely pray to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. She explained the situation to a Dharma Master, crying as she spoke. The Dharma Master suggested her to set up plaques and a bright lamp for her son. Not long after, her son actually returned—all other soldiers who went together with him, however, had died in the front lines, and he was the only one who returned. In this way, her faith in the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas greatly increased.
Later, her son was again sent to the front lines to fight. She then came again to CTTB and knelt in front of the Venerable Master’s statue, begging him for help and vowing that if her son did not have to go to the front lines anymore, she would like to come to CTTB to volunteer and help cut laypeople’s hair. In the end, not only did her son not have to go to the front lines, he was also permitted to quit the army. She no longer had to constantly and fretfully worry about her son and was very happy and grateful. Therefore, regardless of how many customers she has, she will always take some time every month to come to CTTB and help cut laypeople’s hair. Gradually she also began to take time off to attend Dharma assemblies.
Once, after having just finished cutting our hair, she appeared again in CTTB a week later. She called me over and I asked her why had she come again. She said that two days after she had come to CTTB, she got in a car accident on the way to work. She felt very concerned and uneasy, so she had come again.
I asked her whether she had gotten hurt, and she said that she was fine, but her car had been totaled. She was sad about her new car, which she had only driven for two or three years. I comforted her by saying, “What is important is that you are fine. You can buy a new car if your car is broken, but what is most fortunate is that you are okay. This is really avoiding disasters and calamities by losing wealth. A few days ago, there was also a layperson who got into a car accident. At the time, she and her car were fine, so she agreed when the young person who had crashed into her asked her to not report him to the police because he had no car insurance. Two weeks later, she began to cough. Originally, she thought it was just a cold, but it got worse and worse, and later after an X-ray did she find out that there was a fracture in her breastbone.
I continued saying: What is best is that you are fine. If you like that car, you can buy a new one, but what would you do if you were injured?” I also asked her if she had played the Great Compassion Mantra in her car? She said that she had, and even after the car was destroyed in the crash, the Great Compassion Mantra recitation continued to play. I said, “Look! Isn’t this Guanyin Bodhisattva protecting you?” The next time when she came to cut our hair, I asked her how is everything going. She said that everything is good now, and her health is very well and she had bought the same new car as before.
She finds joy in doing volunteer work, even though every time she is very busy and tired. She once told me that she hoped that she could continue to help cut laypeople’s hair until one day when she was old and couldn’t move anymore. When I heard this, I was very moved by her sincerity. Buddhadharma let her mind attain peace and happiness—she no longer worried excessively about her children and instead learned to slowly let things go.
The Venerable Master said that as practitioners of the Way, we should be happier day by day. If we can be without tempers, afflictions and ignorance, then we are truly free and at ease. If we still have tempers, afflictions, and ignorance, then we are at odds with ourselves, torturing and abusing ourselves.