It may not be difficult to come up with a tune or write a song according to our own whim. Setting a poetic composition to music requires a bit more effort. And it is even more difficult when the theme is a religious one: In order to express the transcendental ideals of a sage in musical form, it is necessary to nurture the communication between mind and soul and elevate the state of our minds.
ast fall, I felt it was a shame that so few people could compose music for the Venerable Master’s many wonderful verses. Thus, on impulse I composed the melody for the “White Universe.”
In fact, music has been of great help in regulating my moods and in cultivation. I recall being an impatient person ever since I was little. I always played the piano in a hurried and careless manner. I was especially fond of music with a fast beat. So, when I played a piece of music, all the notes seemed to become lumped together in a mass. Later, I changed to a different piano teacher. She stopped me immediately and said, “From now on, you must not play beyond what you are told when you practice at home. Just practice with your right hand, and then with your left hand. Slowly and steadily, play each note clearly.” It was boring and dull to practice that way. Though I didn’t follow her instructions precisely, playing two lines when told to play only one, finally I did manage to settle my mind and was able to sit for hours in front of the piano and carefully play note by note. In the process, my impatience was tuned down tremendously and I developed patience, which served as a basis for sitting in meditation and enduring pain for hours later on. Only after I had practiced every note accurately and steadily would I increase the tempo. Then I had to play fast and clearly, avoiding harshness in the loud notes and vagueness in the soft notes, and not missing a single musical sign. I have only today come to realize that taking care of matters and dealing with people should be handled in the same manner. During our cultivation, we must slowly but surely establish a firm foundation. When quick action is required, our minds must remain calm and unconfused. Moving and stillness are originally non-dual. Only a calm mind can control many notes efficiently. A single false thought will mess up all the notes. If our minds can think about complex things without becoming confused, then we can deal successfully with complicated matters. My teacher once told me about the attitude to take in practicing piano: “Suppose you have practiced for one whole day. When you sit down to practice the next day, can you still have the attitude of the previous day when you knew absolutely nothing and honestly worked hard in practicing? Or will you feel confident and forget your initial true resolve due to the little bit of progress that you have made?”
When I was readjusting my attitude in studying Buddhism, especially when I tried to revive the Bodhi mind that was already “frozen and asleep in hibernation” during the times of “ice in the sky, snow on the ground,” I often thought of these words of my teacher. The initial resolve is often the most sincere. However, after several years one may retreat from it due to frustration, or forget the purity and sincerity of that initial resolve after making some petty gains, or become arrogant and be unable to continue cultivating with a humble mind. Therefore, in cultivation it is not easy to maintain the initial true resolve over a long period of time. Can we maintain the attitude of a beginner and humbly study Buddhism every day? Can we be new people every day?
At the beginning of this year when it was still wintertime, after the music for “White Universe” had been stored away for a whole year, I met a Dharma-brother who gave me enormous encouragement. Furthermore, considering the many Buddhists who hope to hear more songs from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I brought out this piece of music. Accompanied by several Dharma-brothers, we practiced singing it. When the lyrics, composed by the Master over twenty years ago, were going around in my brain every day, I found that they were speaking Dharma for my present state. Let me explain:
Ice in the sky, snow on the ground. When the weather gets cold, it is not truly cold. But if one’s mind gets cold, that is more serious than the ice in the sky and snow on the ground. I deserve it since I was naive enough to want to try out this “patience” to see how much fun it would be. After undergoing all kinds of tests given by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, I learned that my skills were far from mature. I almost wanted to bury myself at the bottom of a freezer. Numberless tiny bugs die in the cold or sleep in hibernation. In the coldness, I did not want to do anything. The poisonous bugs of greed, anger and stupidity did not die in the cold, but the new shoots of the Bodhi mind almost froze to death and seemed to be in hibernation.
In the midst of stillness you should contemplate. After this impatient mind was gathered in, I only did quiet observation. And within movement you should investigate. When I am on the move, I should still maintain my calm observation. Dragons spar and tigers wrestle in continual playful sport. Take a look at the heroes displaying their talents, just like dragons and tigers fighting with each other in scene after scene of a play. Ghosts cry and spirits wail, their illusory transformations strange. The ghosts who were defeated cried, while the victorious proper spirits wanted to shout in making a stand for righteousness. Those who recognize the states can enjoy the play, while those who fail the test must start over. All the gains and losses, victories and defeats are like the strange transformations of illusory flowers in space.
Ultimate truth transcends words. Truth can never be described; it is beyond words. Not thought about or talked about, you ought to advance with haste. In the state where everything is beyond words and concepts, I really wanted to put down everything... However, life and death have not been ended. Dragging this tiresome body, I still must advance quickly. With great and small destroyed, with no inside or out. The great and the small, the good and the bad should all be cast away. It pervades every mote of dust and encompasses the Dharma Realm, / Complete, whole, and perfectly fused, interpenetrating without obstruction. Only when we have gotten rid of the appearances of great and small and good and bad can we pervade every mote of dust and encompass the Dharma Realm, and reach the state of complete, whole, and perfect fusion with no obstacles.
With two clenched fists, shatter the covering of empty space. Empty space has no form; affliction has no form either. However, people are covered by myriad layers of affliction to the extent of being suffocated, and yet they do not recognize it. Thus, we should cultivate blessings and wisdom, and use these two fists to shatter the covering of afflictions. In one mouthful swallow the source of seas of Buddhalands. One must have the capacity of the great ocean to be able to swallow the source of seas of Buddhalands. With great compassion rescue all, / Sparing no blood or sweat, and never pause to rest. One must bring forth a mind of great kindness and compassion so that one can rescue all living beings with whom one has and does not have affinities. One cannot stop even if one’s blood and sweat have been exhausted.