Bhikshu Heng Sure Shi:
This is Guanyin Bodhisattva's Anniversary and people have gathered from all over to celebrate. There's a verse in the Universal Door Chapter that says: "Wondrous Sounds, Contemplator of the World's Sounds, a Brahma Sound, pure as the ocean tide, a sound that surpasses every other worldly sound, Guanyin's forever on my mind."
This verse of course comes from the name "Guanyin" which means "to contemplate the sounds." People know that Guanyin has an image with a thousand hands. That's just a symbol of the many hands that Guanyin has, it doesn't stop at a thousand. Right now in the world when you look out there's a sound that is a very worldly sound and it's the sound of images of the Buddha crashing to the ground. The news from Afghanistan is that the leaders of the new government there have issued an order to destroy images of the Buddha. Two of them in particular are noteworthy; one of them is 150 feet tall and the other 120 feet tall. They have been there since the third century A.D.. Afghanistan, particularly this region which was known as Bamiyan, is right on the Silk Route. All of the traffic that went from China and the Far East to Rome and Greece passed right through there. Master Hsuan Tsang, the monk who made a pilgrimage to India to bring the Sutras to China, traveled right through the country of Bamiyan. Let me read from his biography a passage that I found. It says:
"The Master made slow progress but finally reached the capital of Bamiyan. On the hill to the northeast of the royal city was an image made of stone a hundred and fifty feet high. To the east of the image stood a monastery, and to the east of the monastery, there was a standing image of Shakyamuni Buddha made of bronze, a hundred feet high. In the monastery, was an image of the Buddha lying down in the posture of entering Nirvana, one thousand feet in length. All of these images were made in a stately and beautiful manner."
Master Hsuan Tsang traveled through Afghanistan on his journey to India in the 8th century. That was thirteen centuries ago. 1300 years ago, those images were standing and our pilgrim, Master Hsuan Tsang, saw them and recorded them in his journal which you just heard.
According to today's report in the news, the Taliban Government says that they have destroyed eighty percent of these images, 150 feet tall, 120 feet tall. It's over, it's too late. That's not good news, that's the worldly sound. But, inside that worldly sound, there's another sound that I think is equally important, which is the response of the whole world to this news. The secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, went to Pakistan to talk to one of the ministers of the Taliban government, to plead with them to stop and not destroy the images. Voices the world over, from UNESCO to Japan to Sri Lanka to America, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike united to say "Please do not destroy these images. These are, number one, a priceless heritage." Obviously, they're old and they are the two biggest Buddha images in the world. But they are also the treasuries of humanity. There's not that much monumental art from the 3rd century anywhere. We can really take heart that people the world over united with their spirit to say, "Save these images of the Buddha who is a teacher, not a false god, not an idol, but a teacher, a human being who got free and then taught others how to do it."
The other, I think, very important thing and something I hope that people will consider as they think about this news, this part of the Dharma Ending Age, is that Muslim governments around the world, from Egypt to Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, governments who ordinarily support the Taliban, with a single voice said, "This is wrong, stop this!!" But unfortunately, this particular group of fundamentalists, originally students, militants, are a fringe group and do not represent Islam. I received an e-mail from a professor who is a Muslim in India who said to me in the e-mail: "I am mortified. I am ashamed. I don't know what to say. Words fail me to describe my feelings as I know what some disciples of Islam have done to the art of the world." So I think it's important for us, and that's why I decided to talk about this today instead of talking about Guanyin's name.
Thus it's really important that Buddhists don't fight. Suppose people who know that you're a Buddhist or who are in sympathy with the Dharma say to you, "Isn't that terrible how the Muslims are destroying our images?" You should say to them, "In fact the Muslims are not destroying our images. There's a fringe element of extremists who give all of religion a bad name. Islam, with a single voice was saying, 'Please do not destroy these images; they were there in Afghanistan before Islam.' "If you can say that and say, "In fact, what we can do is recite the name of Guanyin Bodhisattva and transfer the merit to the poor people who made the decision to destroy images that have had Dharma Protectors and Bodhisattvas around them for thirteen centuries. These people have unfortunately created terrible karma for themselves. If we are really compassionate, we will show compassion for the stupidity and the ignorance of those deluded individuals who decided to dynamite a sacred image. You can imagine the retribution ahead of somebody who sheds the Buddha's blood this way." You can flip it over. On one hand we can say that it's terrible and it makes you sick at your heart. On the other hand, the whole world with a single voice said, "We want these images in the world." That's a good thing. Number two, have compassion in your hearts for the poor kind-hearted, well- meaning, devout Muslims who see some part of their religion, some fringe element behaving like this and who feel sick and sad, and don't label the whole of Islam as terrorists. This was the action of a few.
The last thing I want to say was, how does Guanyin Bodhisattva's sound surpass worldly sounds? There's good news too. The good news is that the youth of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, DRBY, Dharma Realm Buddhist Youth, during the winter asked the Sangha and the laity to help them study the Shurangama Sutra. That's how they wanted to spend their winter break from school. Well, they put in another request: during the spring break they want to study the Pu Men Pin (Universal Door Chapter). They're going to take their precious spring break to come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas if it's okay with the abbot and with the assembly, and study the Pu Men Pin for three days and learn to meditate. So, in every dark cloud there's definitely a silver lining, and what goes around comes around.
Bhikshuni Heng Yin:
On Guanyin Bodhisattva's Birthday in 2001, the world is in a precarious situation, yet most people are unaware of it as they pursue pleasure and wealth. You could say our society is technologically advanced but morally bankrupt. Citizens in this hedonistic, consumer society know only how to consume and indulge. They do not care that they are polluting the planet and depleting its resources, ruining it for future generations. With biotechnology, human cloning will soon be possible. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the never-ending political and religious wars, the earth could be blown away at any moment. In this new electronic age, people live in a "virtual" world on the computer and Internet. Decades ago, the Venerable Master called television and computers "monsters in disguise" and accused them of devouring children's brains. Now we are seeing his prediction come true. More and more parents are allowing their children to grow up in front of the TV and computer, and on the Internet, because they themselves are too busy making a living to pay attention to their children.
Electronic technology allows us to work and communicate more quickly and efficiently than ever, yet something vital and human is lost when people spend most of their time interacting with or through computers instead of face to face. Speaking from experience, I know that our physical health also suffers when we sit in front of a computer all day.
With the loss of moral values and widespread divorce, the family has broken down. Parents are not there for their children, and children have no ongoing nurturing relationships to help them develop into well-balanced, confident, healthy individuals. The increasing incidence of school violence should warn us that neglecting to teach children values has serious consequences.
In this desperate age, we must not give in to hopeless despair. Instead, the Buddha taught us very clearly what we must do to change our karma and our destiny. He gave us the Five Precepts and the Ten Good Deeds. He also introduced us to the Dharma of Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva who Observes the Sounds of the World. Guanyin Bodhisattva promises to save beings from any danger or hardship as long as they recite his/her name. If we recite sincerely, there will certainly be a response. By reciting, we purify our minds of greed, anger, and delusion. When our minds are pure, we can find true happiness and wisdom within ourselves and increase the peace and wellbeing of the planet.
On a more concrete level, we could all simplify our lives and live more frugally, be vegetarian, and model basic values that we want our children to live by. For example, the elementary and secondary schools at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas teach filial respect and social responsibility. Students learn to recognize their parents and teachers' great kindness and seek to repay it, as well as aspiring to work for the benefit of society in the future.
All of us have gathered at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas today because of Guanyin Bodhisattva's great vows. We must have faith that if we all recite her name sincerely and change our own faults, then world's situation can be turned around.
On one last note, I am not saying that we should shun computers and other technology, for they have their usefulness. However, we should be aware that the more advanced civilization becomes, and the more we know and the faster we know it, the more quickly we are heading towards the end of the world. This kind of knowledge is not true knowledge. It is simply information. True knowledge is knowledge of who we are, of where we came from when we were born and where we are going after we die. By being mindful of Guanyin Bodhisattva, we can return to our inherent true nature, which is free and at ease. Once we find peace within, we can be a peaceful influence for those around us and the world in general. May we all encourage one another towards this.