Lotus Petals ~ FIRST TALK

A tree stands through a storm because it has strong roots. A mushroom is easily broken because it has weak roots. People have roots, too, but they do not grow in the ground; they grow inside us. Some people have strong roots, so they can pass through all the storms of life without being hurt or affected; but other people have weak roots, so even a small wind can blow them over.

You all know that foxes have beautiful tails, don't you? Well, one time, a fox was caught in a trap, and in his efforts to become free, his tail was cut off. Although he escaped and was still alive, he was very sad, because he had lost his beautiful tail. For many days, he stayed inside his hole and didn't go out anywhere, as he was afraid of other foxes seeing him without a tail; but he could not stay there forever, because he needed to find some-thing to eat. Therefore, he made a plan. Going outside, he called a meeting of all the foxes in that area, and when they had assembled, he addressed them in this way: "I have come to show you the latest fashion", he said, "Look! No tail! Very beautiful! Why don't you all cut off your tails, so that you can also have the latest fashion?"

But the other foxes were not so stupid, and replied to him: "If you had not lost your tail, you would not be telling us to cut off ours!"

Many people call others to follow and join them. It is to your credit that you still remain Buddhists, that you have not lost your faith, you have not lost your tails. And you will not cut off your tails to join other people, even if there are material benefits to be had. The Buddhist temple offers no material things to the refugees, and we are not ashamed of that, because that is not the responsibility of the temple. Buddhist people do not expect to get anything material from the temple. That is not our way. The Buddha never gave anyone money, clothes, or sponsorship. He gave spiritual wealth, not material wealth: The temples are set up as places of learning and understanding, of comfort and consola-tion. A Buddhist does not say: "The temple is very poor; I cannot get anything there, so I’ll go somewhere else". It is not material wealth we look for in the temple, but spiritual wealth. That is why you are here now. I do not think that you are expecting me to give you clothes or money; if you are, you will be disappointed. What I am trying to give you is something which, if you use it, will last you until you die. A T-shirt will be worn-out in a few months, but if we know how to help ourselves, we can use that knowledge always.

When you are in trouble or danger, or sad or unhappy, you pray for help; but when you are safe and happy, you do not pray anymore.

If you wait until your storeroom is empty before you decide to plant rice, to grow rice, you will die before the crop is ready. You have to plant every day, so that there is a crop every day, also. Do not wait until everything is finished before you plant again.

If a man is good, he does not say so; if he says he is good, he is not good. In the same way, if we are religious people, we do not make a big show of it. If we are Buddhists, it is not necessary to say we are. Someone else may say about us: 'He is a Buddhist,' but if we say: "I am a Buddhist," it is not quite true. It is more important to have the fruit than to have the leaf. How, therefore, to become good? We do not become good by saying we are good, but by living right. Buddhists have five rules to live by, and they cover our rela-tionship with other living beings ~ not only people, but all living things. And we do not follow these rules because we are afraid or because we think of getting anything in re-turn, but because we understand about our relationship with others.

The first rule advises us not to kill anything, but it does not say "Do not kill." It is quite different. Nobody tells us what to do; instead, we understand that killing is not good or wise. And we think that, "Just as I would not like someone to kill me, so others would not like me to kill them." We do not kill because we understand, not because someone tells us not to kill, and because we see everybody and everything wants to live and to be happy, and does not want to die; even the ants want to live, do not want to die. So we begin to take care of the way we live, not to kill, not to hurt anything. Our motive in this is Compassion, not Fear, and this is a much firmer foundation.

The second rule advises us not to take things that do not belong to us. In the same way, because we do not like other people to steal our property, so others do not like it if we steal theirs. In Bataan Camp, I heard of several cases of people going to the bathroom and putting money or gold on top of the wall, taking a bath, and then forgetting and going home; but later, remembering, and going back to look for it, they found ~ no more; gone already Someone who had used the bathroom after them thought they’d had a lucky find. But I never heard any announcements on the loud-speakers reporting that some-one had found someone else's gold or money.

It is not so much the suffering of the refugees that makes me sad, because that is a re-sult of the past, but the fact that many refugees seem to have learned very little from their suffering. If we learn something from suffering, then the suffering is not in vain, is not wasted. Suffering is Life's way of trying to teach us something. We know that if we have a pain in our body that something is wrong and needs attention, so we go to the doctor for treatment. If we have ~ for example ~ appendicitis, but without pain, we would not know that anything is wrong, so would not go to the doctor, and if we did not go to the doctor, it would probably get worse, until maybe it burst, and then we would be in very great danger. But because there is pain, we pay attention, and this gives us an op-portunity to be cured of the sickness. So pain is Life's way of telling us that something is wrong; we should listen to it. If we are afraid of pain, if we hate pain, it is very difficult to learn from it. Pain is really a friend, even if its face is ugly. To a Buddhist, pain is a Teacher, the greatest. From your experiences as refugees there are many lessons to be learned, and you can become rich from them. Pain can be used to advantage instead of seeing it as something bad to escape from. If we can learn to look at it, there is some-thing useful, there is deep meaning in pain. It helps us to understand others, because if we’ve suffered ourselves, when we see others suffering, we can sympathize with them.

A few years ago, someone told me about how the Jewish community in Canada had sponsored many Indo-Chinese refugees, and had given them everything: housing, clothes, furniture, money, food, and had helped them in every way possible, without ask-ing anything in return; nor did they ask them to join their religion. They did these things because, forty years earlier, they themselves were refugees; they were Refugees from Europe where Hitler had tried to kill them all ~ and had succeeded in killing six million Jews. So, many Jewish people fled to other lands, just like you. Just like you, they took very little with them ~ in many cases, only their lives. But they started again; they were not lazy, and worked hard, and became successful. They received help from kind peo-ple, perhaps, and later, many years later, after they had become successful, and were in a position to help others, they did not fail in their responsibility, because they had learned something from their suffering, they had learned Compassion. To Buddhists, this is the greatest quality. The meaning of the word 'compassion' is: 'to suffer with' or `to feel with,' so that if we see someone suffering, we feel it as if we are also suffering. And there is then a response; we become responsible, respond-able, that is, able-to respond.

In India, women, even until today, have a very low place, and if a girl-child is born, it is considered unlucky, because her parents will have to give money ~ and sometimes a very large sum of money ~ in order to find a husband for her; it is called a 'dowry.' So everyone wants to have boys; nobody wants to have girls. Well, once there was a young woman of a poor family named Kisagotami. She had not had a happy life, but when she was old enough to marry, her parents did their duty, and managed to scrape together enough money to find her a husband, who was also poor. However, her husband was kind to her, and when, later, a boy-child was born to her, her happiness knew no limits, because a boy meant respectability in the community, and whereas before, people had ignored and looked down upon Kisagotami, now they respected and befriended her.

One day, when the little boy was about two years old, she put him outside to play in the garden, as she often did, while she did her housework, and she could hear him playing happily with his toys. After some time, however, she noticed that he had become quiet. Wondering what was wrong, she went outside to see, and found him lying on the ground among the flowers, not moving. She ran to him, and picked him up, but he was cold, and still and quiet; she didn’t know that a snake had bitten him while he was playing. Shaking him, and holding him tightly to her, she said: "Speak, cry, move, do something," but he remained still, and cold. Quickly, she ran round to her neighbor’s, saying, "My baby is sick; he won't move or talk. Can you tell me what to do? Do you have any medicine?"

The neighbor could see that the child was dead, but said: "I'm sorry, I have no medicine for that."

Kisagotami went to the next house, but received a similar answer. She went to many houses, and some people said they hadn't any medicine, while others, who were unkind, laughed at her, telling her that her baby was dead, and no medicine could cure him. But she could not accept this ~ her baby, who had been so well and happy just a short time ago, dead? She continued to ask around for medicine until one man, who was a little more intelligent than the others, said to her: "If you follow the path into the forest over there, you will come to a place where a monk is sitting beneath a tree. Ask him; perhaps he knows of some medicine."

Overjoyed, she followed the path until she came to the place where the Buddha was sit-ting. Her hair and clothes were disarrayed, and she was out of breath because she had run all the way, and she said to the Buddha: "Please, please, Sir, can you help me? My baby is sick; he does not move or even cry. Please can you give me some medicine?"

The Buddha could see, of course, that the baby was dead, but He said to her: "Yes, I know some medicine for this sickness. Go back to the village, and ask for a handful of green beans from a household where no-one has died".

Hearing this, she was very happy. "It is very easy," she thought; "everyone has green beans." So she ran back to the village as fast as she could, and at the first house that she came to, said: "Please help me; I need a handful of green beans as medicine for my sick baby."

"Certainly," said the woman, and went inside to get them, but when she returned and gave them to her, Kisagotami said:

"But tell me, friend, of your family, has anyone ever died?"

"What is this that you ask?" said the woman, surprised; "many of my family are dead: my parents, some of my sisters and brothers, and even two of my own children."

"Oh, then in that case, I cannot take the beans," said Kisagotami, and gave them back. She hastened to the next house, and the next, and the next, but although they were all willing to give her the beans, the story was always the same: so many people had died; she could find no family that had not been visited by Death. Slowly, she understood that it is normal, that everyone is going to die. And when she understood this, she took her baby to the riverbank where the bodies of the dead were cremated, and said to the man in charge there: "Sir, my child is dead, but I am very poor, and cannot give you anything. Please have pity on me, and cremate him for me."

And the man, who was poor himself, so understood, said, "Yes, I will do that for you." Then she went back to the forest, to the Buddha. But this time, she didn't run, and her face was calm and peaceful, instead of sad.

The Buddha saw her coming, and knew what had happened, but asked her: "Did you get the medicine I sent you for?"

"Yes", said Kisagotami, "I got it. And now I wish you to become your disciple; please teach me more".

Such is the Buddhist way: by understanding things clearly, we reach Enlightenment. That is how we overcome suffering while living in this world ~ by understanding things clearly. When we do not understand, we suffer very much, but when we understand, al-though we still suffer, it does not affect us so much. What has happened to you is not really unusual; it has happened many times before, and can happen to anyone, even to rich people with all their money; money is no protection against things like that.

There was a man who left his country before it fell to Communism with sixteen tonnes of gold ~ that is 16,000 kilos of gold. Do you think he is rich? He can buy whatever he wants to ~ except peace of mind. He is not like you and I; if we want, we may go to the beach alone, no problem; but he can't do that, because he will always be afraid of someone coming to kill him. Wherever he goes, he must have body-guards with him. If he hears something behind him, he will look around in fear: "What's that?I" He's already living in Hell. His gold is useless to him, and can never buy him happiness.

But there was another man, who was born a prince, and had everything that money could buy at that time. He had only to clap his hands, or snap his fingers, and his ser-vants would come to do his bidding. He never had to carry water, cook, sweep his house, or do any kind of work; it was all done for him. But something inside him told him, "This is not everything, it is not complete; there is something more than this."

Once, when he went out into the town, he saw an old man staggering along with the aid of a stick, very slowly, and with obvious difficulty. His skin was dark and wrinkled, he had no teeth, and appeared unable to see well. The prince asked his attendant, whose name was Channa, "Why is that man like that? Why does he stagger along in that way? Why is he so ugly?"

Channa replied: "Once, this man was young, strong, healthy, and handsome, just like you, my prince; but now he is old, maybe 70 or 80 years old. That is the result of old age."

"Are there others like this?" asked the prince, "or just this one?"

"There are many," said Channa, "it is not uncommon."

"Might I become like this, and my wife, too?"

"Yes, you, too, might become like that, my prince, if you live so long." The prince was disturbed, but continued on his way.

Further on, they came across a sick man lying in the gutter, crying in pain. The prince exclaimed: "Why does he cry like that'' What is wrong with him?"

"Oh, he is sick; he has a fever, or plague, or dysentery, or something."

The prince had never been sick, nor seen anyone in the palace sick; he could not under-stand what it meant to be 'sick.' What does 'sick' mean?" he asked.

"It means he is not healthy; his health has failed, the four elements are out of balance, and disease has taken hold of him. Perhaps he will recover, perhaps not. Please do not go near him, lest you catch his disease, too."

"I catch it? Might I become sick like this?"

"Yes, you might, my prince; no-one is exempt from sickness."

Continuing down the street, not long afterwards, their path was crossed by a funeral-procession ~ people carrying a corpse on a stretcher, taking it to the burning-grounds by the river. Curious, the prince asked: "What is this? What are they carrying? And why do they cry and look so sad?"

"They are carrying a dead man, and are going to burn him."

"Burn a man?I How can they do such a thing? It's terriblel We must stop them!"

"But he is dead already, and cannot feel anything. When a person dies, his family do not keep his body, for it would soon be stinking; they burn or bury it".

"Dead? What does that man?" asked the prince.

"It means, he is no longer alive; the life has gone from him; he cannot see, hear, smell or feel anything. His body is only like a piece of meat, and so they will burn it. That is what they usually do," said Channa.

Hearing this, the prince was more shocked than ever; "Will they burn me, and my wife?"

"Yes, when you are dead."

Greatly disturbed, his mind in turmoil, the prince turned back towards the palace. "Come," he said, "let's go back now; I don't want to see any more."

Before they reached the palace, however, they saw another strange sight: a monk, sit-ting beneath a tree at the roadside, meditating, with a very peaceful expression upon his face. The prince paused, and said to Channa: "Today, I have seen many things that I never expected to see. Among happy faces, I have seen an old man, someone sick, a dead person, some sad people, and now this. Never, in my whole life, have I seen any-one with such a peaceful countenance, yet he looks very poor; I see that he has only a staff, and a clay bowl, and his clothes are old and torn. Who might he be? And what is he doing here?"

Channa said: "He is someone who has left his home and family in order to seek for Truth; he is trying to find out why we get old, become sick, and die."

When the prince heard this, he made up his mind that he, too, would do this. So, not long after, when the first opportunity came for him to leave the palace secretly, he did so; in the middle of the night, when everyone was asleep, he rode off on his horse to the border of his father's kingdom; there, he crossed the Anoma river, cut off his long hair and beard, took off his jewels, changed his fine clothes for the robes of a mendicant, and set off into the forest, barefoot, with just an alms-bowl. For six years, he wandered from place-to-place, living on the scraps of food that kind people put into his bowl, going from teacher to teacher, learning all that they had to teach. But all that they could teach him was not enough; it did not lead him to Enlightenment, Nirvana. So he started to fast ~ that is, not eat ~ until he became almost just skin and bones; he did so because he thought he could find Enlightenment thereby, and almost died before he realized it was the wrong way. Then he changed, and began to follow the way of meditation. By this, his mind became calm and clear, and shortly afterwards, Enlightenment came to him. He became the Buddha, the Awakened One. He had no money, but was the richest person in the world. Since that time until now, His Teachings have spread all over the world, and have been followed by countless millions, who loved and respected Him because He was wise, kind, and Enlightened. The merit of the Buddha is great and inexhaustible.

About 1,200 years ago, a great Indian Buddhist Teacher who spread Buddhism in Tibet, and who could see into the future, said this: "When the Bird of Iron flies, and Horses run on Wheels, then will the Tibetan people be scattered like ants across the face of the Earth, and the Teachings of the Buddha will go to the Land of the Red Man." 1,200 years ago, there were no aeroplanes, so what he 'saw' he described as an 'iron-bird' because it could fly in the sky; and there were no automobiles, but he could 'see' that these things carried people, so he described them as 'horses on wheels.' The first recorded landing in America by outsiders took place about 500 years ago. Until that time, nobody knew about the 'Red Men' in America ~ the 'Land of the Red Man' ~ but this Teacher could see. In 1959, when the Chinese communists took over Tibet, many Tibetans, who were Buddhists, fled as refugees. Before that time, Tibet was a closed country; it was very dif-ficult to go there but when the Chinese communists took over, many Tibetans fled, and took Buddhism with them to the West.

I have spoken to you before about the Yin-Yang (positive and negative), about the two fish, one black and one white. The black fish has a white eye, and the white fish has a black eye. It means that, in the black, there is some white, in the wrong, there is some right, in the bad, there is some good. When the Chinese communists took over Tibet; the Tibetans fled, and took Buddhism with them. This is the good part. Since 1945, many Buddhist countries have been taken over by Communism: China, Tibet, Mongolia, North Korea, North and South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. But not everything was lost. In America now, there are about 600 Buddhist temples, many of which have been set up since 1975, when people began to flee South East Asia as refugees This is not really so many in a country the size of America, but every year more temples are established. In Canada, Australia, Germany. France, England, and other Western countries, there are Buddhist temples. They have been set up by refugees like yourselves who have strong roots. There are not only Vietnamese Buddhist temples or Cambodian Buddhist temples, but Buddhist temples from many countries: Japan, China, Tibet, Mongolia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Korea, and so on. Neither are they all for Asian people; there are now many Western Buddhists, and there will be many more. In the West, many people say, quite openly, that they have no religion; but that is not necessarily a bad thing, and might be good. It is like an empty container: it can be filled; but if it is already full, nothing else can be put in. There are many people in the West waiting in darkness for the Buddha's Teachings; if they hear them, many will receive them. The Buddha's Teachings are suit-able for people who cannot accept the old explanations about life, the explanations which require us to believe without seeing. Many people have thrown all that away; so they are empty, and can be filled. If they are given a clear explanation of the Buddha's Way, many will accept. And you have a part to play in this. Buddhism is still young in the West and not very strong, but it is growing. You can help with that. Because of your needs, this temple was set up; if you had not needed it, it would not have been set up. But, you know, this place is important not only to the refugees; there are others who come here and who can get something ~ as in Bataan, where there are two temples; there are some American Buddhists working there.

So, even though you might not understand very much about Buddhism yet, I admire you for keeping your faith, because it is easy to be drawn away. That is being true and hon-est to yourselves. Therefore, use your time and your opportunities to go deeper into your religion to find out the real meaning there.

In the black there is some white;
In the wrong there is some right;
In the dark there is some light;
In the blind there is some sight.

"Iron-ore may think that it is uselessly tortured in the furnace, but when the tempered blade of finest steel looks back, it knows better.” (Chinese proverb).

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