Lotus Petals ~ SECOND TALK

How many faces do you have? Only one, you would say; but that is not true. We all have many faces: happy faces and sad faces, angry faces and kind faces, jealous faces and bored faces; so many kinds faces we have ~ not just one. Do we know all the faces that we have? Have you noticed when we take photos, if we take a nice one of ourselves we like to print copies and give them to our friends. But if the photos are ugly, we do not make copies of them. We want people to see our beautiful faces.

We all have great capacity to do good and to do evil. Now you think: "Oh, I am very sad because the Communists have thrown me out of my homeland The Communists are very bad!" When we have no power or position, we complain about people who do have, and say: "If I were powerful and rich, I would use my power and wealth to help others." But if we became powerful and rich, the situation might be quite different, because power, position and wealth are like whisky: they make people drunk. And then it is easy to forget earlier good intentions. Power is very sweet, and many people like to have high positions, but few people know how to use them wisely. Instead of using them well, they use them in the wrong manner, and this causes trouble and brings pain.

Even religion is commonly used in the wrong way. Religion is like fire: if you know how to use it properly, it is very useful, very good; but if you do not know how to use it, it can be very dangerous and destructive. Many people consider their religion is the best, better than all others. A Buddhist should never say that ~ that Buddhism is the best religion ~ because such an idea causes a lot of trouble. You will notice that it is people who do not really understand or practice their religion who say such things ~ that their religion is bet-ter than others. We do not say that Buddhism is better than other religions; what we say is that Buddhism is different from other religions. But when we say it is different, we do not mean that it is better or worse than other religions; something that is different cannot be compared with anything else. We can compare things that are the same, but things that are different we cannot compare. A rose is not a lotus. A rose is a rose, and a lotus is a lotus. It would be incorrect to compare a rose with a lotus because they are different. A rose is not better than a lotus, and a lotus is not better than a rose. Perhaps you like roses more than lotuses, or lotuses more than roses, but that is just an opinion; it does not make one or the other better. Religion is not something to make comparisons about, either, but something to be lived; religion is supposed to make people better than they are, but the way that many people use it does not make them better; in fact, it makes them worse; they often become more proud, selfish, and stupid thereby. .

People have used religion in many wrong ways. They have used it to make competition between each other, and to make themselves feel superior. They have even used it to make wars, and have called these 'Holy Wars,' or 'Religious Wars.' But how can war ever be holy or religious? War is evil. Some people use religion to hate, and turn them-selves into demons (e.g. Khomeini in Iran), to become more ignorant, instead of more enlightened. Not understanding the meaning of religion, they make it into something of superstition and stupidity; they use it to divide people, instead of to unite. And really, all that many people have is just a name: Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, etc., and the name is nothing at all. It is better to know nothing, if what you know is wrong. So before we think about changing the world, we should change ourselves first, that is, we should use our religion in order to gain Enlightenment. It is not enough just to call oneself a Buddhist.

(Question from the audience: Someone is asking how a Buddhist behaves in this world towards demon-people: "Is it right to destroy demons?" he asks. "Can affection and enlightenment be brought to such people? What is the correct attitude and action to reach the Buddhist goal?"

This is why we need wisdom, and that is not really something that can be taught to an-other, but has to be acquired through our own meditation, reflection, and experience. We may spend our whole life trying to change the world, and by the time we die, the world will have been changed very little or nothing thereby. According to Buddhism, there is to be found no lasting peace in the world outside; the only peace and freedom is to be found inside our minds. In the nature around us, we do not find birds, animals, or fish making wars like human beings do, because they do not have the capacity that human beings have; if they had the same capacity, for good and evil, perhaps they would do the same. We have to know and understand our own capacity, and what we are going to use it for.

I met a young man this afternoon, and it was a very pleasant meeting. I asked him "How long have you been here?" He told me "One year," but added, "I love to stay here, and I would like to stay here forever to help my poor, suffering people. I need little, and I do not want much."

I said, "That is very nice to hear. You are rich, aren't you?"

He said, "No, I am very poor."

"No, you are rich, because you need and want little." A person who wants much, even if he has much money, is poor. The young man had little; he said he needed little, and wanted little, and therefore he is rich, while at the same time, he is poor. Contentment is wealth, while greed is poverty. There are many ways of approaching life. There are al-ways demons in the world. What are we going to do with such people? Are we going to be demons in our dealings with them? It is very easy to be so; it is very easy for us to become demons, too. But is there another way by which we can deal with such people?

Once, there was a young man, a good, intelligent person, who went to study meditation and spiritual practices with a teacher in the mountains. This teacher was not a monk, but had a wife and children. The young man ~ whose name was Ahimsaka, which meant 'Non-Violence' ~ quickly learned anything that the teacher taught him, and soon became the teacher's favorite disciple, and this made the other disciples jealous. They were not happy with Ahimsaka; so they thought of a way to discredit him in the eyes of the teacher. They waited in the garden behind a big tree until they saw the teacher coming, and then they began to speak in loud voices. One of them said: "This Ahimsaka is very bad; he is having an affair with our teacher's wife." As they had intended, the teacher heard this. At first, he didn't believe it, as he was very fond of Ahimsaka, but the seed had been sown, and as the days passed he continued to think about it; finally he came to believe it must be true.

He thought: "Now I must destroy Ahimsaka." So he called him, and said to him: "You have learned very quickly here, and there is only one more thing that I can teach you. But before I can teach you this, you must bring me one thousand fore-fingers from the right hands of people you have killed."

Ahimsaka was shocked when he heard this, as he was not a bad man, but he thought: "If that is the only way I can get this teaching, I must do it." So he took a sword, and a bow-and-arrows, and went into the forest to wait for people to come by, and, as travelers passed through the forest alone or in small groups, he attacked and killed them; then he cut off their right fore-fingers, and hung them on a string around his neck. Soon, every-one in the country-side around knew that there was a terrible murderer in the forest, and nobody went that way anymore. So he started to attack small villages, and sometimes killed all the inhabitants therein. The king of that area sent his soldiers out to catch him, but Ahimsaka was very strong and fierce, and killed all the soldiers, too. And so, his reputation spread, and people began to call him 'Angulimala', which meant 'Garland of Fingers'. His killing went on and on, until he had 999 fingers around his neck, and he needed just one more.

Now, it just so happened that the Buddha was visiting that area, and 'saw' Angulimala during His early-morning meditation. He also 'saw' Angulimala's mother, on her way to the forest to try to persuade her son to give up his evil ways, and the Buddha knew that, if nothing happened to prevent it, Angulimala would kill his own mother in order to com-plete his bloody garland. So the Buddha quickly made His way to that place, and put Himself between Angulimala and his mother. Upon seeing the Buddha, Angulimala turned away from his mother, and began to run towards the Buddha, who turned, and walked slowly away. Angulimala was very surprised that, although he was running very quickly, he could not catch up with the Buddha: Stopping, he called out: "Stop, monk, stop!"

The Buddha continued to walk slowly, and said: "I have stopped, Angulimala. It is you who have not stopped".

And Angulimala thought: "What does he mean? He says he has stopped, but he is still walking, and he says I have not stopped, but I am standing still. What can he mean? These monks are usually honest people, and don't tell lies. What does he mean?" And then he understood the Buddha's meaning ~ that the Buddha had stopped turning the Wheel of Birth and Death, while he had not. So Angulimala was converted from his evil ways, and asked the Buddha to accept him as a monk.

Shortly afterwards, the king of that country, who was a supporter of the Buddha, came to visit the Buddha in the forest, and began to tell Him about the wicked murderer who had killed so many people; the Buddha listened to him, and then said: "What would you say, 0 king, if you knew that Angulimala was here now?"

"What!" the king said in fright, "Where?"

The Buddha said: "This is Angulimala."

The king was surprised, and said: "Angulimala has become a monk? Well, in that case, allow me to be his supporter, too." The king had such confidence in the Buddha that he thought: "If this murderer has been tamed and converted by the Buddha, it must be al-right."

Angulimala was a very good monk, following the Way diligently, so that it was not long before he attained Enlightenment himself. Then, one day, he went out for alms in a town nearby, and the people there recognized him. "Look!" they said, "That is Angulimala, disguised as a monk! He is coming to kill us and our children again! Let us kill him first!" So they took sticks and stones and beat him until they thought he was dead, and left him lying in a pool of blood. But he was not yet dead, and when he had recovered con-sciousness, he made his way back to the forest where the Buddha was. There he died.

This story illustrates how even bad people, people who have done much evil, can also attain Enlightenment. Buddhism teaches that everyone has Buddha-nature; anyone can become a Buddha. There is not only one Buddha; there have been many before, and there will be many more in the future. The word 'Buddha' is not a name, but a title, and it means 'One Who is Awake.' We are not Buddha because we are sleeping, but it is pos-sible for us to wake up, and when we do, we will be Buddhas. We are sleeping because we do not know what is true; if we know what is true, we are awake. So a bad man can become a good man. We are stupid if we hate people who hurt us; by our hatred, we hurt ourselves also. People who hurt others are stupid, because they will suffer them-selves afterwards. We should keep in mind that there is goodness in all people, and try, by some means, to bring out the goodness in others, as well as in ourselves.

Some years ago, before I became a monk, I used to stay in a temple in Malaysia. The chief monk liked me because I worked hard in the temple, but one of the other monks disliked me as a result. He used to scold me and blame me to other people. It also seemed he had some psychic-power which he would sometimes use against people he didn’t like. It would have been easy to have become angry with him and scold him back, but I didn’t do so. I was not happy there, and considered leaving and going elsewhere. But one morning, as I was cleaning the altar, and putting fresh flowers there, I thought of another way, the way of judo, which is a way of overcoming someone by using his own strength against him, instead of using one's own strength. So I prepared an extra dish of flowers, took it to his room, and knocked on the door. When he opened it, without saying anything, I offered the flowers to him, and he accepted them, also without a word. He was never angry with me after that, and later, when I left that temple, he gave me $50! If I had become angry with him and scolded him, he would have hated me more. But be-cause I knew there are other ways, I was able to win him ~ not defeat him, but win him. I felt good, and he felt good, and we both benefited.

There was once a convicted murderer who had been in jail for many years. He hated everyone ~ the jailors, and also the other prisoners ~ so he had to be kept alone, in a small cell, and was not allowed outside. One day, a sparrow flew in through the window, and he caught it, and was about to crush it to death, but stopped, and thought: "This bird is also a prisoner now, just like me. I don't like being a prisoner, and neither does this bird." So, instead of killing it, he kept it and fed it, and it became tame, and didn't fly away. This man had never known love in his life before, but it came in at his window in the form of a little bird. And it changed him completely, so that he became a very good person. The jailors had never seen such a change in a prisoner before, and he was al-lowed to go out inside the prison, where he was able to influence other prisoners to be-come better, too.

We often say that 'So-and-so is no good; he is very bad,' but we should be very careful what we say; just because a person does bad things, that doesn't mean that he is a bad person; it means that he is foolish. There is no-one who has never done anything bad; we have all done bad, and sometimes we still do bad. And that is where religion comes in: we use religion to become better. We do not know how much good, and how much bad there is in our minds, or in the minds of other people. A person might do bad today, but tomorrow, he might become enlightened; nobody knows. So we should be intelligent, and look for ways to show people the goodness in themselves. People kill and destroy and do bad things because they do not understand. It is very easy to kill and destroy; we do not need intelligence for that. This building here: it took a long time to build, but in one second, with a bomb, it can be destroyed. But which is better: creation, or destruction? Everyone would like to live in a nice house; nobody wants to have his house destroyed. We should understand ourselves first, and then we will know how to help others to change.

Someone is asking about Enlightenment ~ What does Enlightenment mean? Well, there are many kinds of Enlightenment, many degrees, as on a thermometer. All of us are enlightened to some degree. I will tell you how enlightenment arises. Suppose you have a problem ~ a mathematical problem, for example ~ and you try to work it out, and try, and try, but cannot get the answer, until you get tired of it, and get frustrated, so you leave it and go to do something else, to eat something, or play guitar, listen to music, etc. And suddenly, when you are not thinking about the problem at all, the answer comes! And you think: "Wow! So easy! Why couldn't I think of it before?" Maybe you couldn't think of it because you were trying too hard, and looking with a mind full of ideas. When the mind is already full, there is no room for anything else. Another exam-ple: you are trying to think of the name of someone you met before, but cannot get it, and later, when you are doing something else, the name comes to you. That is a form of enlightenment; enlightenment comes in such a way. It is the sort of thing that could make even a blind man say: "Oh, yes! I see!"

Do you know what are icebergs? Well, our mind is like an iceberg: the greater part of it is beneath the surface, and cannot be seen; we consciously use only a small part of our minds, and that part sleeps when we go to bed at night; but the greater part of our minds ~ the subconscious never sleeps; it is always awake. So when we think about something very much, very deeply, with the smaller part of the mind ~ the conscious part ~ it is taken over by the subconscious, so that, even when the conscious mind is asleep, the subconscious is still thinking about things. And it is from the subconscious that the an-swers to our problems come when we are no longer looking for them. It is in the deeper part of the mind, too, that the seed of Buddha-hood or Enlightenment is hidden. Enlight-enment does not come to us from outside, but from inside our own minds. It is there al-ready, just waiting to come out, but is buried beneath lots of rubbish. That is why it is very important for us to be quiet at times, to let the mind settle down, because the mind is usually disturbed, like muddy water, unclear. You cannot make your mind clear by saying: "Now I will make my mind clear," just like you cannot make muddy water clear by stirring it up. But, just as when you leave muddy water to settle, it becomes clear, so also is it with the mind; you cannot make your mind quiet, but you can allow it to become quiet. You can make your mind disturbed and unclear, but you cannot make it clear. Meditation can help the mind become clear; by being aware of things in and around us, the mind may become quiet. Chanting is one way to help the mind become quiet; it is very important to some Buddhists, while to others, not; that is just according to their per-sonal preferences. The Buddha did not chant, but spoke in a common language so that ordinary people could understand Him. So, chanting is not absolutely essential; if you want to chant, that's fine, but if you don't want to, that's also alright. Many people misun-derstand about chanting, and think that it is prayer, but it is not; it is a recitation of the scriptures, that is, of the Buddha's Teachings, the real value of which, of course, lies in understanding and applying them, not in chanting them. There are some results of chanting, of course, even if you don't understand the words that you are using; but com-pared to understanding and applying the Teachings, the merit from chanting is very little.

For 500 years after the Buddha passed away, there were no written records of what He had said. His Teachings were passed on orally from person to person, and memorized. Having taught for 45 years, there was a great deal to be remembered, and people who had to work for a living and take care of their families did not have the time necessary to remember these prodigious Teachings. This became the duty of the monks and nuns, because they had time, they didn't have families; they didn't have to work for a living, and could devote themselves to remembering the Teachings, and to pass them on. For 500 years they were passed on in that manner, until they were written down. The easiest way to remember these things by heart was to give them a kind of tune; if they are just spoken, it is more difficult to remember them, but with a kind of rhythm, it is easier. That is how chanting of the Teachings originated. As to these instruments that you use here ~ toc-toc-toc, ding ~ they were not used in India at all, but originated in China, where the temples were so large, and so many people attended the ceremonies, that, in times when there were no microphones, the people at the rear couldn’t hear where the people at the front were up to. Therefore, what you call the 'wooden-fish' was invented and used, so that the people could all chant in unison.

Let me say again: Chanting is useful, but is no substitute for understanding the meaning.

This morning, someone came to see me to ask about a part of the scriptures that she has chanted every evening for many years. I was rather surprised by this question be-cause I have never been asked this before. Hundreds ~ thousands ~ of people recite regularly, but not many ever ask questions about it. Not many people understand the language of the chanting, because it is in old Vietnamese, not modern; moreover, it in-cludes many Chinese and some Sanskrit words that are not translated to Vietnamese, so how can you understand it if you have not studied it? One example, one word: "Nam-mo." Maybe none of you knows what it means, although you have heard it and chanted it thousands and thousands of times. Vietnam got this word from China, but it’s not a Chi-nese word, either, but Sanskrit, from India. So it came from India, through China, to Vietnam, and now it comes to Philippines, still untranslated. It means 'Homage' or 'Praise,' or 'Respect.' So when we say "Nam-mo Bon Su Thich Ca Mau Ni Phat", it means: "Homage to the Great Teacher, the Sage of the Sakya People, the Buddha."

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