(Note: “White Universe,” composed by the Venerable Master in 1972, is a poem that teaches all. Starting off in a majestic and extraordinary manner, it comes crashing down like the Yellow River. Its heroic style is reminiscent of the flourishing Tang Dynasty, and its bold message shakes up people’s souls and minds. The Editorial Department has compiled the Venerable Master’s lectures on this poem delivered between 1982 and 1995.)
o you know what I want to tell you all today? I want to tell you about the “Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra” Recitation Session held at Gold Mountain Monastery in 1972. That session lasted for seven days and seven nights. There were over sixty participants, Americans as well as Chinese. They were all very vigorous, reciting day and night without ever stopping to rest. From morning to night, twenty-four hours a day, every day, they rotated shifts to recite this “Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra” without resting, stopping, or cutting corners. Why did they do it? They were praying for world peace; they wanted to invisibly eradicate the calamities of the world. That was why this Dharma session was held. In 1974, it was predicted that there would be an earthquake in San Francisco. We recited the “Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra” to prevent the quake from occurring. That’s how we fought with the celestial demons. The celestial demons and externalists wanted San Francisco to quake, and we wanted to turn it around. Therefore everyone was reciting very vigorously, and no one was lazy.
You all know the Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra. Some people recite “An Ma Ni Ba Mi Hung” while others recite “Om Mani Padme Hum." Long ago there was an elderly woman who recited “Om Mani Padme Cow." Whether it’s “cow” or “Hum,” it counts as long as you recite it with sincerity. If you are sincere then it will be efficacious; if you are not sincere then it will not be efficacious. What is sincerity? Concentration. Being concentrated is efficacious. Being scattered is useless.
I didn’t take part in that session for reciting the Great Bright Mantra. Why not? Because I wanted to let the participants follow their own free will. If I had pressured them into reciting, they would have been embarrassed not to recite. Then it would not really be them reciting, nor would it be me reciting. The recitation would have been done under pressure. That’s why I chose not to take part in the session. But I watched them from behind the scenes. I had a “radar” and I could see very clearly who was sleeping and who was not. I was very pleased to find that during the seven days, both during the day and at night, not a single person felt asleep while reciting the mantra. It makes me happiest to see people cultivating. What I dislike most is to see people cheating each other and not cultivating.
During those seven days, every person was very vigorous and diligent. Some of them had attained an ineffably sublime level of skill, while others were feeling terribly tired. Some people were hoping to obtain spiritual penetrations, while others were reciting in the hope of obtaining ghost penetrations or human penetrations. But in the end, they didn’t penetrate a single penetration; they were without spiritual penetrations and ghost penetrations and didn’t even have the penetrations of people!
After the seven-day session was over, their sincerity in reciting the mantra inspired me to compose the poem “White Universe” as a commemoration. This poem is modeled after the poem “Crimson River” by Yue Wumu [the famous General Yue Fei of the Southern Song dynasty in China]. These two poems are distantly correlated. I believe that Yue Wumu was full of righteous energy and gave all his strength to try to save his country. His bearing was very heroic. The title “White Universe” is derived from the title of his poem. He used the color red, and I changed to the color white. Not only did the river turn white, but the whole universe turned white.
Why is the poem called “White Universe”? Because the Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra is so bright that its light illumines the entire universe and turns it white. That’s one explanation. Furthermore, Gold Mountain Monastery has a very apt nickname: the icebox. Why is it called the icebox? Because there is no heater. Why wasn’t a heater installed? Because there was no money. Why wasn’t there any money? Because we didn’t solicit donations. Why didn’t we solicit donations? Because we wanted to starve to death. Even if we starved to death, we wouldn’t ask for money. So even though we were hungry as could be, everyone still worked hard at their cultivation inside the icebox. Since the ice is white, the poem is entitled “White Universe.” That’s to speak on a small scale. What about on a larger scale? The characters for “universe” in Chinese are yu zhou. Yu refers to the zenith and nadir, while zhou refers to the east, west, south, and north. Together the six directions comprise the universe. The universe of the six directions had turned completely white and there was no more darkness.
This poem is also describing how everyone worked so hard during those seven days, reciting the Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra without stop, cleaning up all the darkness in our own natures and turning it white. Hence the name “White Universe.” There are many meanings to this name. “White Universe” also describes being able to endure hardship and apply effort in cultivation. Being patient and having not a trace of greed, hatred, and stupidity in our minds is also called “White Universe.” The poem “White Universe” which I wrote goes like this:
Ice in the sky, snow on the ground.
Numberless tiny bugs die in the cold
or sleep in hibernation.
In the midst of stillness you should contemplate,
and within movement you should investigate.
Dragons spar and tigers wrestle in continual playful sport;
Ghosts cry and spirits wail,
their illusory transformations strange.
Ultimate truth transcends words;
Not thought about or talked about,
you ought to advance with haste.
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,
interpenetrating without obstruction.
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,
Sparing no blood or sweat, and never pause to rest!
Although this verse is not as courageous as Yue Fei’s “Crimson River,” it’s not too bad. The first line says: Ice in the sky, snow on the ground. It describes how we worked hard amidst the cold—we were in an icebox. Although Gold Mountain Monastery is not a world-renowned place, people in the United States know that it is an icebox. In the icebox, there’s ice in the sky and snow on the ground. The ice represents that it’s cold—very, very cold. At Gold Mountain Monastery, the building is cold and so are the people. Everyone who comes here says, “The people at Gold Mountain Monastery are very cold to people; they are not warm at all.” So people who come here are all disappointed. “Ah! Those people are really frigid, not friendly at all.” All the bugs in Gold Mountain Monastery die in the cold. The “ice” means it’s icy cold, and “snow” means everything is frozen like ice and snow. “Ice in the sky and snow on the ground.” This is pretty easy to understand, right?
Numberless tiny bugs die in the cold. It’s not known how many of these bugs there are. These tiny bugs are just our false thoughts and the germs in our bodies. Every person’s body has bacteria and germs. Due to the presence of these organisms, our bodies want to consume vitamins, such as A, B, C, D, B12, and vitamins 100 or 1000. “Die in the cold” means freeze to death. Since the people here don’t take vitamins and yet still apply effort in such cold, these tiny organisms freeze to death. This kind of skill can eradicate all sorts of germs and infectious diseases. Not only does it cure skin diseases, it also freezes and kills the germs that transmit infectious diseases. Therefore, it says “Numberless tiny bugs die in the cold.”
However, these creatures are skilled at hiding. They become stiff in the winter, as if they were frozen to death, but they aren’t really dead. The freeze temporarily causes them to become stiff and hard, but when the warm summer weather arrives, they come back to life. So it says: or sleep in hibernation. They hide away and go into hibernation, but when spring arrives they come back to life! Buddhism advocates not killing, so we should try to avoid killing even germs. Thus, “Numberless tiny creatures die in the cold or sleep in hibernation.” They go into hibernation, and during that time they sleep. What does that symbolize? Their sleep symbolizes that when we are sitting in stillness and reciting the Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra, we seem to enter samadhi and yet not enter samadhi. We seem to be reciting the Great Bright Mantra, but at the same time we seem to be in samadhi—that’s what is meant by “sleep in hibernation.” During our “hibernation” we should cultivate our thought. Therefore the next verse says: In the midst of stillness you should contemplate. The mind is cold and calm, free of the seven emotions and six desires. Why is it free of them? Because it’s so cold! There is no energy for emotions and desires. Some creatures are frantically reciting, “It’s so cold! It’s so cold! It’s so cold!” These creatures are freezing so badly that they go into hibernation. In the midst of stillness you should contemplate: when the mind has calmed down, contemplate what this state is like. This refers to cultivators who enter a state of stillness and contemplate how the myriad things are all speaking the Dharma.
→To be continued