Springtime at the City of 10,000 Buddhas
As you enter this Western Pure Land,
You can feel the serenity pulsing through your spirit.
This is a sagely sanctuary
For painters, photographers, poets, naturalists,
And seekers of Truths!
Winter is cold and enchanting,
In spring, the flowers are smiling,
Deers, mules, sheep and hares,
Running, trotting, leaping and hopping...
squirrels perform acrobatic feats,
While butterflies dance in midair,
and fish swim merrily in the pond...
Exuberant musical sounds come from birds perching on high,
Woodpeckers drum on tree trunks with their beaks,
And the call of peacocks is like a harsh noise and scream.
The stream flows, the winds blow,
But Wonderful Enlightenment Mountain sits in samadhi.
This sacred land is a Storehouse of Light!
Don’t speculate, don’t complicate,
Just honestly cultivate.
Revert your hearing,
Listen to your own self-nature,
Can you improve the silence?
The Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a unique and rare sanctuary for all living beings.
When I was young, one of my favorite pastimes was to feed and observe the ants. When I first came to the City in 1990, I was delighted to have arrived at a place where the residents don’t deliberately step on ants or kill little creatures that are regarded as pests by most people. The Sagely City is a paradise for anyone who has a sense of appreciation for the plant and animal kingdoms.
The dominant trees in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are oak, Douglas fir, and sycamore. Many ancient oak trees are found near the main entrance and in the surrounding meadow and the groves. The huge and imposing valley oak (Quercus lobata), in front of the administration office building is said to be several hundred years old. Only oak trees have acorns. Whenever I come across an acorn, I recall what George Bernard Shaw expressed in favor of vegetarianism:
Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into a giant oak. Bury a sheep, and nothing happens but decay...
My first encounter with redwood trees was in Yosemite National Park about ten years ago. At that time, their towering height and massive trunks made a deep impression on me. I did not meet up with these giants of the forest again until I came to the Sagely City. Besides oaks and redwoods there are Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), or Christmas trees. A forest of these grows near the grazing ground. The plant life at the City is amazingly abundant and prolific.
The tree and I have a lot in common. We share the same earth, air and sun--we are both part of the elements that pervade throughout the universe. Due to past causes and conditions, trees have taken the form of trees, whereas I have entered the human realm. While the tree is fixed to its birthplace for life unless man intervenes and transplants it, I am quite free to move around as I please. The tree provides shade, shelter, and inspiration, and, to me, it is a silent poem of endurance and stillness.
The only tree I know of that has a special religious significance is the Bodhi Tree. The Buddha realized Buddhahood when he sat beneath the Bodhi Tree. The Venerable Master explained that as a result of this, the Bodhi Tree gained great merit and virtue. It is also mentioned in a Sutra that the Buddha lay down on his right side in the auspicious position on a couch between twin sala trees when he entered Nirvana.
Several flower gardens that bloom during different seasons adorn the Sagely City. There are also two main vegetable gardens. Many kinds of herbs have been planted in various gardens, while others just grow wild. The leaves of the poison oak turn bright orange or scarlet in the fall and look very beautiful, but they should be avoided. Poison oak teaches us not to be moved when we encounter beautiful forms.
I think the medicinal herbs are a very special category of plants. They have benefited countless living beings. Since ancient times until today, people have used herbs to maintain health and prevent and cure diseases. The herbs are here to inspire us to quietly cultivate the selfless, magnanimous, and altruistic spirit of the Bodhisattvas.
The Sagely City is like a panoramic, three-dimensional live Sutra, for all the myriad things are indeed speaking the Great Dharma! This dynamic and powerful audio-visual presentation of the Dharma is truly inconceivable, magical, and most wonderful. Peacocks, peahens, and pigeons are a common sight at the City. One can also frequently see grey squirrels scampering about, going up and down the trees, or gnawing away at acorns and nuts.
Not long ago, I was going up a flight of steps when I saw a squirrel coming down. In order to keep from frightening it, I remained still and avoided making any sudden movements. Then I began to recite the Buddha’s name so it could hear. When it first saw me, it was obviously terrified, but later it became more relaxed. It started to move slowly down the steps, staring rather curiously at me all the time. When it got close to me it quickly ran down. I turned around to look at it and was very surprised and glad to see the squirrel had decided to come back up the steps to where I stood. It sniffed me a few times before running off again.
If one walks quietly around the more remote areas of the City, one may occasionally meet up with deer and hares. The deer are extremely alert and shy and will run away when they see or hear someone approaching. They are agile and graceful and run in a succession of bounds. They can leap over the fences effortlessly. A flock of sheep and a pair of mules graze in the pastures. In the meadows at the back of the property I have come across many little burrows in the ground, probably the shelters of rodents. During the time that I have been here, I have also seen horses, rabbits, foxes, moles, bats, snakes, lizards, frogs, pheasants, quail, sparrows, bluejays, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, owls, crows, vultures and hawks. Birds are often seen in flight, hovering, parachuting, gliding, soaring, landing or taking off, walking, or perching on fences, branches, or wire lines.
There is a fish pond with aquatic plants next to the Buddha Hall and a waterhole at the pastureland. There is another pond which is located in the midst of the marshes. On this tract of low wetland, cattails grow wild. The marsh provides a habitat for birds and insects. There is a creek that runs through the Sagely City. Certain sections of it are slow-moving, while others are fast. It usually dries up in the summer and fall. The climatic and seasonal changes which can be observed daily, weekly, monthly, or annually are refreshing and instructive...
In the fall, many trees shed their leaves. As one watches the leaves fall, one is reminded of the fact that the only thing that is permanent in this world is change. Due to the dry spell in summer, when autumn comes, the sheep pasture resembles the African savanna. In the early winter, flocks of birds can be seen flying happily about. I wonder if they are a migratory species...When the rainy season begins, green patches of grass sprout up all over the place. Moss covers the trunks of certain kinds of trees, and lichen is seen hanging from other trees. Many plants bloom and bear fruit in the spring and autumn. Butterflies, birds, and insects can be seen visiting flowers.
Mountain ranges can be seen from many parts of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The rising and setting of the sun can have a spectacular effect on those mountains and on the buildings of the Sagely City. During the cold seasons, the fog sometimes covers the mountains partially or completely. When viewed from certain places, the Sagely City appears to be nestled in the mountains. When the sun is hidden behind the clouds, it creates a misty, soothing, and solemn atmosphere--very enchanting.
In the past, I was a member of the Malaysian Nature Society. During that time, I learned something I really liked: We were told that when we go out on field trips, we should not take anything from the areas we pass through. If every visitor or tourist took something back home with him or her, it would eventually upset the ecosystem of that place. What impressed me was the witty manner in which this important message was conveyed. We were seriously advised not to take anything away when we left--except our photographs when we left.
This instruction is in accord with the Buddha’s Teaching. In Buddhism, we are exhorted not to take anything that does not belong to us, not even objects as small as a needle or a blade of grass. It would be wonderful if everyone adopted this practice.
I think it would be nice and effective if the students of Instilling Goodness Elementary School and Developing Virtue Secondary School could design some posters or paint a few signboards with the message, “When you leave, please do not take anything except your photographs with you.” That way we can give everyone a chance to practice this principle. We can put them up in places where visitors are most likely to see them. The work of young people has a special childlike quality that makes it especially appealing. This is an expedient way to tell our guests not to pick the fruits or pluck the flowers and leaves while they are here, and not casually remove anything which belongs to the Sagely City.
When the Venerable Master was explaining Chapter Eighteen of the
Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, he related how he used to study in past:
When the Dharma Master lectured the Sutras, I listened to the Sutras. When the leture was over, I ran off to the mountains to look at the trees, flowers, and water; I had a lot of fun. My fellow students watched me quite closely. I never said a word all day long, so nobody knew what I was up to. When the time came for the daily review, most of the students read from their notes. I just recited the whole thing from my memory. I repeated everything the Dharma Master had said, not missing a word, not adding a word...I said I was playing in the mountains, but actually I wasn’t playing in the mountains, I was in the "studying samadhi." I was up in the mountains, looking at the mountains, but my heart was not in the mountains; it was in the Buddhadharma, going over what the Dharma Master had said during the lecture, reviewing it very thoroughly. That’s the real way to study the Buddhadharma.
The Venerable Master explained before,
Sutras are everyone’s breath; without them people are lost. We should step outside of our stuffy rooms to breathe the fresh air of the Sutras.
People cannot live without air or Sutras.
You ask, “I don’t study Sutras or the Dharma, so I don’t breathe that air, do I?”
You breathe that air too, because the Dharma air fills the world, and whether or not you study it, you breathe it all the same. Everyone shares the air. Students of the Buddhadharma exhale Buddhadharma air and non-students breathe it in. You cannot avoid this relationship. Sutras are also food for the spirit, and have many other uses. When you’re melancholy or depressed, recite Sutras, for they explain the doctrines in a wonderful way which dispels your gloom and opens your heart.
The pure and tranquil atmosphere that pervades the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is so inexpressibly wonderful. Its calming effect is profoundly felt. My brother described this
“Western Pureland” most aptly when he wrote,
A sanctuary and a refuge,
truly rare in the Saha world,
a Sagely Way-place
as conducive and perfect
as the earthly plane can allow.
The Venerable Master, the Founding Patriarch of this “Western Pureland,” often said, “Don’t enter the mountain of jewels and return empty-handed.” The fauna and flora are the external adornments of the Sagely City. If you wish to uncover its hidden treasures, look deeper...
The Venerable Master once said,
The states which occur at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are inconceivable, to the point that all the birds and beasts, all the flowers and grasses, all the trees and herbs exemplify the Dharma, spead the Dharma, and practice the Dharma. Although grasses, trees, and flowers don’t actually speak, nonetheless they embody the ineffable wonder of the Buddhadharma. They are,
Apart from the mark of language and speech,
Apart from the mark of the mind’s conditions,
Apart from the mark of the written word.
In all four seasons－spring, summer, fall, and winter－they represent the Buddhadharma.
In the spring hundreds of flowers bloom.
In the autumn yellow leaves fall.
If you can understand the principle behind the myriad transformations of nature, you will become enlightened. That is how Those Enlightened to Conditions awaken to the truth. They contemplate the Twelve Causal Conditions--all of which exemplify the Dharma.
All the creatures here at the City are speaking the Dharma. Black crows caw and white cranes call, each with its own sound. Black crows and white cranes－isn’t that a matched couplet? Then there are the bluejays, who are the thieves of the group. They’re real bullies. Wherever there is something to eat, they just glare so no other birds dare make the first move. They all have to wait until the bluejays make off with the best of the food and only then are they allowed to pick over the remains. This is speaking the dharma of the “survival of the fittest”－those that are weak are eaten by the powerful ones. Is that taking life? Yes, they are speaking the dharma of taking life. The deer speak the dharma of deer, the rabbits speak the dharma of rabbits, the foxes speak the dharma of foxes...
Isn’t it strange that before I made the announcement that everyone should take special care in protecting the wildlife those foxes seldom showed themselves, but now that I’ve made that announcement, they are seen all the time in most public places and don’t seem the least bit afraid of people any more. I you walk past them, they will even parade before you. They’ll greet you first! That’s why it is said,
All living beings have the Buddhanature;
All can become Buddhas.
They are here accompanying us in cultivating the Dharma. In every single dust mote here there are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas cultivating the Way. If you did not have great good roots from past lives, you wouldn’t get to come and live here. So don’t take it for granted!