Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, and Good Advisors, Amitabha Buddha! My name is Lori Cabansag. Tonight is my turn to speak.
We have just begun a three-week recitation session of the Avatamsaka Sutra. I first encountered the Avatamsaka Sutra at Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco. Before I came to live here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB), I used to go to Gold Mountain on the weekends when I was free from work. Although I didn’t know Chinese, I could at least read the pinyin [romanization].
At first, I would constantly lose my place in the text and had a hard time following along, especially if the wei no [cantor] was reciting quickly. I used to set small goals for myself, like I would see if I could recite one whole line without getting lost; then that increased to one whole page, and then that increased to one whole section. Sometimes, I would get to the monastery late, and if everyone was reciting from the Chinese text, I would have to find someone who could help me find the right place in the romanized text. The amazing thing was that, even though I couldn’t read Chinese, I could often just turn to the right page by accident and automatically pick up the line that was being recited.
Those of you who have come to CTTB to participate in the entire recitation session are really lucky because your causes and conditions are such that you’re able to take time off from your job and other responsibilities to make the trip here and cultivate full-time this sublime Dharma door.
I myself feel lucky to be living here at CTTB. In two months I will have been living here for two years, but it’s something I never want to take for granted because I don’t know what conditions will ripen that might cause things to change. So even though I have family expectations, attachments, and other obligations that draw me away from the City from time to time, I would like to spend as much time here as I can.
The last time I went home for an extended period of time was over winter break in late December, early January. But I ran into a situation in San Francisco on the street that made me realize that I’ve learned a lot from being able to live here. I’ve come to know myself better, and I’ve been able to work on my faults and bad habits and begin to change them. One of those faults is acting rashly and allowing my emotions to control my thoughts and actions. This incident that happened showed me how I’ve made a little progress in self-control or self-mastery of my emotions. I’d like to share with you what happened on that day.
This was in San Francisco, in the late afternoon, along a dangerous stretch of Mission Street. But I was there with my husband checking out some artwork painted on some buildings in that area. The street was noisy, as usual, and there was all kinds of activity, and all kinds of sounds from buses, cars, voices, and such. There was one sound, however, that was booming above the din. It was a man yelling in a loud, angry voice, spewing profanity. That sound became louder. Suddenly, the source of that sound was upon me: a six-foot plus, 300-pound man was shouting directly at me, and his breath reeked of alcohol.
I tried to keep walking, to ignore him—oh, he’s just crazy, I thought—let me just get away from him. But he followed me, shouting curses all the while, and he wasn’t going to let me just pass him by. My husband tried to get the man’s attention by talking to him, putting his hands on him to push him away from me. But the man was too big, he wouldn’t budge, and he paid no attention at all to my husband. So, what could I do?
So, I stopped and tried to listen to what he was saying. He was pretty incoherent—making references to “you people” doing this and that thing. He was directing all of his anger about some kind of people to me in my face. But I kept my cool and didn’t take any offense or get angry in return.
Instead, I nodded my head and tried to sympathize with him, even though I didn’t understand what he was saying. Inside, however, I was thinking, “This here’s a dangerous situation. This man might even attack me.” I was kind of detached; I could feel the fear in me and aversion too, but I deliberately did not give way to these feelings despite the fact I didn’t know what he was going to do next. I could never have foreseen what was to follow.
As I stood listening to him, letting him say whatever it was he had to say, sympathizing with him, his shouting subsided. He was still talking incoherently, but he was calming down. We were reaching some kind of common space, acknowledging each other as being human, not different, not separate.
The next thing I knew, the man, whose eyes had by this time softened and were no longer angry, exclaimed, “Group hug!” and he flung his arms around my husband and me in a cathartic embrace.
And the only thing that seemed natural to do at the time was to pat his back and to return the hug. With that, I said, “Well, we have to go that way,” and started to move away, gently disengaging from his attention. As we hastened our steps, we dared not to look back to see if the man was following us.
I think that if I were to have gotten angry at the man or to have shown that I was afraid, offended, or if I had shown disdain or repugnance towards him, he would have gotten physically violent, that’s how angry he was.
I think it was that fact that I was able to control my emotions and not be so self-centered that peacefully resolved this situation. Instead of reacting to what he was doing to
me, how he was making me feel, I had to instead try to see where
he was coming from and acknowledge his feelings. I had to empathize with
him, and allow him to express himself—whatever it was that was causing his anger. If I were to have put my own emotions and feelings out into the situation, then there would have been two people fighting: him with his anger toward me and me with my fear and aversion toward him.
I credit my living here at CTTB with my being able to be calm and collected in that situation. Living here has given me the space to learn, to watch my own mind, to watch my thoughts and see how they come and go. I’ve learned a lot from watching and listening to the Dharma Masters, the laypeople, and the students at the schools here. I also learn from the non-humans. From the insects I encounter, from the rain, the wind, the cold, and the heat I learned that these things are just as they are, so I don’t get angry or upset because of them. And of course I learn from the sutras and books I pick up in the library. There’s a lot in the texts I don’t understand because I have little wisdom, but one day when the conditions are ripe, I will. That is the Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ vow for all living beings.
There is one book I came across in the library that contained some teachings by a Theravada forest monk that struck a bell in me. He was discussing the Buddhist principle of not attaching to the concept of a self, saying that the various states of mind are not permanent, they are not of substance, they are not who we are.
This is a quote from one of his books: “If someone curses us and we have no feelings of self, the incident ends with the spoken words, and we do not suffer. If unpleasant feelings arise, we should let them stop there, realizing that the feelings are not us.”
He continues with the following analogies, “If we do not stand up in the line of fire, we do not get shot; if there is no one to receive it, the letter is sent back. On the Middle Path of right practice, calmed of both elation and sorrow, putting down both attachment and fear and aversion, one escapes the path of birth and becoming and finds liberation.”
In this three-week Avatamsaka Sutra recitation session, I wish everyone success. May you feel the Dharma joy from your practice, whether from this Dharma door or another which you’ve chosen to cultivate. And may we quickly realize the Bodhi mind. Amitofo.