News From The Dharma
Interview: Heng Yin with Noffke at KPFA Radio
D.J.: We just heard a song that says
you gotta do something, so you might as well
DM. Yin: In writing the song, I used the four vows of a Bodhisattva as the basis. A Bodhisattva is a being who lives to help other people, because a Bodhisattva has seen that everything in the world is impermanent and involves suffering. He makes vows to get himself out of suffering and also to help everyone else. The position of most common people in the world is to live for the gratification of their own desires. Unfortunately this just leads to more suffering. When you see that, but also realize that you're here and there's not much you can do about it, then you're confronted with the question, what are you going to do? To cultivate is to perfect your spirit so as to be capable of helping other beings. So since there is not really much to do that's worthwhile as far as pursuing objects of desire is concerned, you might as well go ahead and cultivate the Way.
D.J.: Or come to an awakening?
DM. Yin: Yes, to seek enlightenment.
D.J.: Which seems to be the intention of your communication in the album.
DM. Yin: I'm trying to present people with that suggestion--the idea that they can do that. Every person and every living being is potentially a Buddha, is potentially awakened, but in order to realize that potential, you have to cultivate.
D.J.: But if this is the primary function, then is that not to say that it's not that our occupations are worthless or hopeless, but rather that they are seemingly meaningless by contrast to the deeper purpose of life as you see it, which is awakening.
DM. Yin: Anything that you do, if you do it with a proper attitude, and you do it for the benefit of other people, contributes to the well being of all living beings.
D.J.: So, it contributes as well to the awakening process of the individual who performs the act. How did you arrive at this particular philosophy? As a Western woman, you must have been a part of the everyday world at some point -- caught up in all the "illusions," as you might now see them.
DM. Yin: As a student studying philosophy at the University of Washington, I was kind of dismayed because the kind of questions I had and the things I wanted to find out from my teachers and peers were questions beyond them. They didn't want to deal with them. Questions like: Why are we born and when we die where do we go? Why am I not happy? What is the meaning of life? Things like this. When I discovered the teachings of the Buddhadharma, they made a lot of sense to me because Buddhism always tells you to look within yourself. It doesn't present you with a set of rules and dogmas that you just have to swallow whole. It says over and over again, the answer is within you, but you have to dig it out. It's like digging gold out of a mine. You have to get in there and do a lot of difficult work and get rid of your afflictions and basically the only thing that is keeping you from enlightenment, is yourself. Your afflictions: your greed, your hatred, and your stupidity. In order to become enlightened, you have to change them into morality, meditation, and wisdom.
D.J.: Now, you've chosen a hard path. You have gone into a Buddhist community with a cloistered atmosphere. Have you found that this has been beneficial to withdraw from the world for a period and look within?
DM. Yin: Yes, but I don't think of it in a negative sense. Not in the sense that I've given up a lot of things, and I'm cutting out a lot of things, but rather that I'm allowing myself the space and time to really pursue in a direct way the knowledge and the things that I want to learn by eliminating distractions.
D.J.: When you come back into everyday society, do you find that the distractions are over- powering because of your relatively isolated existence?
3M. Yin: No, I don't really notice any difference.
D.J.: So, it doesn't throw you off balance in a sense, in coping with the everyday world. I can see that it may even sharpen your ability to cope.
DM. Yin: A person always has to remember what they're trying to accomplish and what they're trying to do. As long as you are following that -- sticking to your path, then everything's OK. Anyone in any place, whether they're retired from the world or out in the world, experiences temptations, and there are always pitfalls. You have to recognize them and avoid them.
D.J.: Well, you've come back in probably one of the more dramatic ways: to popular music, which would seem to be the most distracting sense element that we have in our society.
DM Yin: Music is used in all cultures and a11 societies. It depends on what you use it for. For example, in the East, Confucius and the sages used music to regulate the emotions of the people and to contribute to their well being. In the West now, if you look at popular music at all, you'll find out that people are using it for their own profit and their own benefit. What they're not realizing is that in hurting society in general, they're also hurting themselves. I have the desire to communicate the things that I have been studying to people in general, because I find that Buddhism cuts across cultures. It's not cultural-bound. It cuts across periods of time. It always applies to everyone, and so I want to present it to people in a way that they can hear it. Popular music is a very good way.
D.J.: You've used one of your songs to really communicate some of the Buddhist scripture, the Lotus Sutra passage about the burning house. I wonder if you can tell us a little about that before we hear it.
DM. Yin: The song, "One Vehicle," is based on the Dharma Flower Sutra; the Lotus Sutra, which was spoken by the Buddha. The parable will tell its own story in the song. In the Buddha's day, Sutras and the scriptures were chanted like songs. They were taught that way. They were not written down but were memorized and sung. As I worked on the text in translating it into English, I simplified it a great deal -- it's very lengthy and very complex -- made it into a folk tune, with quite a few verses that tell the story in a direct way. If people want to pursue the ideas presented, they can go to the text and dig it out. The song is like an introduction.
D.J:: Where is it in the text?
DM. Yin: It's the third chapter. It's called "A Parable." The parable of the Burning House. The first time I sang it for anyone, was when I sang it for the children at our school -- Instilling Virtue Elementary School. I went into the classroom with the guitar and sang it for the children. They were wide-eyed, and it became their favorite song. Just to watch their reaction, realty convinced me that music is a very effective tool.
D.J.: Well, it certainly is. You've got an album that is made up of many effective tools, and I want to congratulate you for doing it. I hope there will be more music forthcoming.
DM. Yin: There's a lot more, and hopefully more people will pursue music as a means of communicating wisdom-teachings, the teachings of the sages and the Buddhas. At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas there are a number of people who are creative in music and art and other such things. I think that in the future, we will see more as Buddhism really takes root in Western society.