“White Universe” describes a great Bodhisattva who takes every mote
of dust to the ends of space and throughout the Dharma Realm
as his own responsibility, and whose compassionate vows are to renounce
his own life to save living beings－not giving up on them no matter
how obstinate and wayward they are－and to sincerely dedicate
his life to the Dharma.
When I sought the Venerable Master’s advice as I was composing the music for “White Universe,” the Master said,
Ah...‘White Universe’ was written after the style of Yue Fei’s
Most Buddhist tunes are relatively mellow. Although the Master’s poem “White Universe” is humbly said to emulate “Red River” in style and meter, its magnificent spirit far surpasses that of “Red River.” The need to accomodate the myriad transformations and unusual sound of “White Universe” makes the melody more difficult to sing and requires a wider range of pitch. Actually, the tune to “White Universe” is only two notes higher than the original tune for “Red River”; anyone who can sing “Red River” will have no difficulty with “White Universe.”
“White Universe” describes a great Bodhisattva who takes every mote of dust to the ends of space and throughout the Dharma Realm as his own responsibility, and whose compassionate vows are to renounce his own life to save living beings－not giving up on them no matter how obstinate and wayward they are－and to sincerely dedicate his life to the Dharma. Slowly coming alive from the utmost stillness, in an instant, he can create infinite life potentials, yet stillness does not obstruct movement; from within samadhi he can manifest instantaneous movement, yet that movement does not hinder stillness.
While composing the music for “White Universe,” I could not help marvelling at its awesome wonder. In fewer than a hundred characters, it embraces so many transformations, reveals meanings beyond reckoning, and expresses infinite feelings. This is a realm of being beyond words and thought; a portrayal of the Venerable Master’s spirit; the essence of his eighteen great vows.
Having attempted to set the poem to music based upon my shallow understanding, I shall now give a brief explanation in three parts:
The first section “Ice in the sky, snow on the ground” presents an sublime vision that invites deep reflection. The scene is not endearing, however, for a closer look reveals that “Numberless tiny bugs die in the cold or sleep in hibernation.” Samadhi begins with the next phrase: “In the midst of stillness you should contemplate,” this is stillness and movement appearing simultaneously, “and within movement you should investigate,” collecting your thoughts without cease. An exciting scene follows:“Dragons spar and tigers wrestle in continual playful sport; / Ghosts and spirits wail.” The transformations of movement and stillness are summarized in the words, “their illusory transformations strange.”
The second section describes the state of reality, the essence of the Buddhadharma. “Ultimate truth transcends words.” Although there are no words, one wishes to speak. Having stopped, one advances again. “Not thought about or talked about, you ought to advance with haste.” As the poem’s vast and profound meaning progresses from small to great, from inside to out, from a mote of dust to the Dharma Realm, the pitch rises from low to high. Finally, great and small, inside and out, a dust mote and the Dharma Realm all return to a single substance. “With great and small destroyed, with no inside or out, / It pervades every mote of dust and encompasses the Dharma Realm, / Complete, whole, and perfectly fused.” This second climax ends with the words “interpenetrating without obstruction.”
The third section is full of the Venerable Master’s overwhelming compassion and pity for living beings. The next lines describe his compassionate vows: “With two clenched fists, shatter the covering of empty space. / In one mouthful swallow the source of seas of Buddhalands. With great compassion rescue all.” With his great kindness and compassion, he rescues all of us in the evil world of the five turbidities, “sparing no blood or sweat, and never pause to rest!”
Within each hell
One passes through limitless kalpas.
In order to cross over living beings,
One can endure all that suffering.
He has no regard for his body or life,
As he constantly protects all Buddhadharmas.
His mind has no self and so he is compliant.
And so he is able to obtain the Way of the Thus Come One.
Flower Adornment Sutra, Chapter Nine, Light Enlightenment