Lotus Petals ~ FIRST TALK
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
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
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
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
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,
"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
"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?"
"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
"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
"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,
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
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
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.”