Universal Door Chapter Lecture 5 — helping in the midst of seven difficulties


Good morning everybody! My name is Heng Sure. I’m here today, today being Saturday, April 24th at 5:30 in the morning probably Friday, April 23rd where you are chances are unless you’re here with me in Australia. We are going to be looking into the Dharma Flower Sutra, the 法華經 Fǎhuá jīng, stories of Guan Yin Bodhisattva, 普門品 Pǔ mén pǐn, Universal Gateway, Universal Door Chapter of the Lotus Sutra. So if you have come for that purpose, welcome we are here together of one mind! Now, to get us started in the traditional way, we’re going to Request Dharma and today we have a layman, layperson named An le Bo from San Jose who’s going to help me Request Dharma and what we’re going to do first is we’re going to ring the bell and I’ll ring it three times and do a half bow from where I’m sitting every time alright? You’re welcome to join me if you like.

[Ring Bell] First bow

[Ring Bell] There’s the second bow

[Ring Bell] And third bow

Our Dharma Request formula is on the screen now; okay if you’d like to begin requesting dharma, now is the time, thank you.

[An le Bo] 好 Hǎo

  恭     請   大  德   僧    聽,

Gōng qǐng dà  dé  sēng tīng,

 為   此 法 會 及 一 切     眾       生.

wèi  cǐ   fǎ huì jí  yī  qiè zhòng shēng. 

  請     轉     妙   法 輪   教   導  我   們,

qǐng zhuǎn miào fǎ lún jiào dǎo wǒ men, 

如 何  了     生     脫  死 離 苦  得樂,

rú  hé liǎo shēng tuō   sǐ  lí   kǔ dé lè, 

速    證    無    生。

sù zhèng wú shēng.

Will the Sanga with great virtue,

Out of compassion,

For the sake of this assembly

And all living beings,

Please turn the wonderful Dharma-wheel,

To teach us how to leave suffering,

And attain bliss,

And end birth and death and

Quickly realize non-birth.

[Rev. Heng Sure]

Namo Tassa Bhagavato, Arahato, Samma Sambuddhassa

[An le Bo]

Namo Tassa Bhagavato, Arahato, Samma Sambuddhassa

[Rev. Heng Sure]

Homage to the Blessed, Noble, and Perfectly Enlightened one

[An le Bo]

Homage to the Blessed, Noble, and Perfectly Enlightened one

[Rev. Heng Sure]

南  無  薩  怛    他

Na mo Sa Dan Tuo 

蘇   伽   多  耶

Su Qie Duo Ye 

阿 喇 訶 帝

E  La He Di 

 三     藐    三  菩  陀   寫

San Miao San Pu Tuo Xie

[An le Bo]

南  無  薩  怛    他

Na mo Sa Dan Tuo 

蘇   伽   多  耶

Su Qie Duo Ye 

阿 喇 訶 帝

E  La He Di 

 三     藐    三  菩  陀   寫

San Miao San Pu Tuo Xie

[Rev. Heng Sure]

          開    經  偈 

          Kāi  jīng jì

  無   上      甚    深    微    妙  法

Wú shàng shèn shēn wéi miào fǎ 

  百  千    萬  劫  難   遭    遇

 bǎi qiān wàn jié nàn  zāo  yù

我   今  見    聞  得  受    持   

Wǒ jīn jiàn wén dé shòu chí 

 願    解   如  來   真    實  義

yuàn jiě   rú   lái  zhēn shí  yì

       Verse for Opening a Sutra

Supreme and wondrous Dharma, subtle and profound,

Rarely is encountered throughout billions of eons.

But now we see it, hear it and accept it reverently;

May we truly understand the Buddha’s actual meaning.

All right, thank you very much for the Dharma Request. Well done!

Let’s do one half bow [Ring Bell]

Okay, that gives us our formal beginning.

[An le Bo] Amituofo.

Now, who’s that on the screen? That is Guan Yin Bodhisattva with her 淨瓶 (Jìng píng) and her mudra (手印 Shǒu yìn) and this image is just about 100 feet from where I’m sitting right now on the hillside by a pond; we call it a billabong here in Australia and Guan Yin stands there through the countless autumns, they say, waiting for us to request, saving, waiting for us to request all kinds of help and Guan Yin Bodhisattva appears in whatever form is needed to help us. 

So, we are in the section of the text called the 救七難 (Jiù qī nán) Guan Yin Bodhisattva saving us from seven kinds of difficulties, this is followed by 滿二求 (Mǎn èr qiú) Guan Yin Bodhisattva fulfilling two wishes and then, that’s followed by 解三毒 (Jiě sān dú) removing three kinds of poisons, then, that’s followed by 授十四無畏法 (Shòu shí sì wú wèi fǎ) teaching 14 kinds of courage, fearlessness and then, followed by 三十二應 (Sān shí èr yīng) 32 transformations; so what the Universal Door Chapter of 普門品 (Pǔ mén pǐn) is about? Essentially, it is Guan Yin Bodhisattva responding to all the different situations that we people put ourselves in that require help, right, this is in accord with Guan Yin Bodhisattva vows and Guan Yin made those vows to respond to those in need, and to provide that kind of help when needed. 

I’ve always had the feeling when I read the 普門品 (Pǔ mén pǐn) that it would be an amazing series of novels, adventure stories; Guan Yin shows up at the last minute when essentially when all other hope is gone; there’s just not much else that will save you, and right at the moment, right when you need it, this hand comes out and sure enough you’re rescued. 

So that’s our basic story and there’s more, of course, and we’ll get there in time; Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s conversation with the Buddha and the Buddha is there accompanied by another Buddha who is speaking from Stupa 多寶 (Duō bǎo) Many Jewels Tathāgata, Abundance of Treasures Thus Come One, Tathāgata, and the conversation is fascinating because the speaker of the Sutra, the one who is basically doing the storytelling, is named Infinite Resolve, 無盡意菩薩 (Wú jìn yì pú sà) and we see Guan Yin giving away a necklace and Guan Yin doesn’t want to keep it; it’s been given to her as an offering and the Buddha has a conversation and instructs Guan Yin what to do and, of course, she listens; there’s a conflict of interest happening and the Buddha prevails to the highest kind of generosity, and Guan Yin does a number; it’s fascinating, right?

And then, there’s one of the most memorable aspects of this Chapter is the description of Guan Yin’s transformation, her shape shifting, it would be one way to talk about it; in Chinese, it is called 化身 (Huà shēn), the transformed bodies, also known as the 應身 (Yīng shēn), the response bodies—the responses that Guan Yin makes to those in needs. One of the qualities that occurs, that pops up from within, one of the abilities that is already innate, inherent in us and it’s explained in the Sutra not just in the Lotus Sutra, but in many Sutras that coded  into our nature is the ability to appear in a different forms with intention, wanting to. It’s all built in and it has to be uncovered and trained and you can appear in a different body. Oh, my goodness! Because of Buddhist code, we call it, sort of, the language of the Dharma and the way it’s passed on, the Chinese have this genius for making essential complex ideas and principles and coding into the most economical, essential form, kind of like a diamond form—adamantine—can’t be reduced any further, can’t be changed any further so that it can be passed on through the generations. Often the Chinese would do that in what are called 四字成語 (Sì zì chéngyǔ), four-character phrases, but not always. Sometimes, it’s just in the most essential form of principle. 

Guan Yin has in her story of coming down from a Buddha, from a Buddha who looked at living beings and said, “Here I am in Nirvana and people are suffering too much. I am not going to stop. I need to stick with my vows to help those living beings.” That’s the greatness of Guanshiyin. The Buddha says, “I want to come back as a bodhisattva and appears as Guan Yin Bodhisattva to show up with a thousand hands, a thousand eyes, a thousand ears, with thirty-two bodies as the time is right.”

We know Guan Yin as a Buddha, has a Dharma Body, a Response Body, and a body that appears as a human with Thirty-Two Hall Hallmarks (the Reward Body). That’s Buddhist code, the principle of Trikāya, 三身 (Sān shēn). What else? We zoom right by it! We swallow it in a single gulp. Full stop. 

Three Bodies: Dharma Body, Reward Body, Response/Transform Bodies. How is that possible? You go “Um-hum.” Well, it’s in the nature; it’s hardwired; it’s coded in; it’s inherent in us to have that ability. You have it, I have it. 

In the Lotus Sutra’s Universal Gateway Chapter, Guan Yin appears explaining those 32, and of course, our teacher 宣公上人 Xuān gōng shàng rén 師父上人 Shīfù shàng rén Master Hua would say 不只 (bù zhǐ), not only thirty two, Guan Yin can appear in thirty two, three hundred and twenty three thousand, two hundred thirty two million billion response bodies when needed. The number isn’t important. The sutra specifies thirty two, and what do we call that in popular culture? Shape-shifting? Who knows what that is? Well, you could say a fantasy-fiction probably is the genre of literature that has that one covered. But usually it’s somebody who becomes a werewolf, or maybe appears as an eagle, you know, or a dragon. Those are still rooted in reality that we can deal with. But Guan Yin’s supernatural amazing ability to first of all, 觀 音 Guān yīn hears our sounds, contemplate our need, and then to respond in just the right form at the right time is the amazing function of what? 大悲 Dàbēi—Great Compassion—Maha Karuna. We are talking about vows and compassion. So, that’s it. Amazing, amazing, right? 

And here is the story of that. So, talk about what I’ve said was it often seems like an adventure story, you know. Something that Hollywood would know exactly what to do with stories like these and turn them into fantastic movies that would keep you locked into your chair except the suspense got too much, and your hair stood on end if you had any hair. So, that’s the way I read it often. 

Yes, it is a sacred literature. Yes, it is a holy scripture. Yes, it is the hallowed, wonderful, inconceivable, sublime Lotus Sutra. But man, it’s somebody who in their time of need remembered to recite Guan Yin’s name.  

And this incredible response happened just in the nick of time. All the above. Here is our text, are we ready? Here it is. Well, we do this one, and this one, and we’ll go down to the bottom, here we go:


“If those who hold the name of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva should fall into a great fire, the fire will not burn them because of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva’s awesome spiritual power.

If they are being tossed about in deep and treacherous waters and call her name, they will quickly reach the shallows.

Hundreds of thousands of myriads millions of men in search of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, moonstones, carnelian, coral, amber, pearls, and other precious treasures, may run afoul of violent squalls that blow their ships to the lands of Rakshashas.

But if even one man among them calls the name of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva, then the entire group will all be saved from the throes of the Rakshasha.

For this reason, she is called “The Enlightened One Who Listens to the Sounds of All the Worlds.””

Among the seven kinds of rescues, here are three. I considered doing them one of them at a time and coming up with stories in between, but I am aware of not wanting to go too slowly, but I am also aware that within these amazing, amazing episodes, there are too many stories that choosing among them, I thought the thing to do is not try to match it—each one specifically and not entirely to dig into the rescue, the response, literature of the past—but, also to use experiences from my own collection of Guan Yin Bodhisattva responses including some that are very personal—my own life being saved by Guan Yin. Also, some that I’ve witnessed and heard about that are contemporary responses to Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s limitless ability to hear our sounds and extend the hand.  

So, what do we have here?  We got conflagrations. What else? Floods. What else? You could say jewel merchants, treasure hunters. How many jewel merchants do you know? Not that many, but they exist and it’s specific. People who go to the sea, go under the ocean in order to bring back things that don’t exist on the land so they’re valuable and it lists them. And, what do they run into? They run into demons, 羅剎鬼 (Luó shā guǐ). What are 羅剎鬼 (Luó shā guǐ)? Well, interesting. Probably we know them by other names and certainly if you go ask sailors, ho, ho, ho, they will tell you. Having been a merchant seamen in my own life, I know there are things that my fellow sailors just didn’t want to talk about. They would roll their eyes, they would stare at you, turn their backs and walk away because it wasn’t something to talk about. My goodness.  

I have a story that I won’t tell today because I have something else lined up, but I have a story from the stretch of water between 寧波 (Níngbō) and 普陀 (Pǔtuó), 普陀山 (Pǔtuó shān普陀珞珈 (Pǔtuó luò jiā), if you want to go to now in the 21st Century, if you want to go to Putuola Mountain where Guan Yin Bodhisattva traditionally, historically, lives and teaches, you have to board a vessel in 寧波 (Níngbō), closest. You could also go from 上海 Shanghai, but it’s further.  You go to 寧波  (Níngbō) and get on board to ship that takes you to these two small islands off the coast in the East China sea. Together, both are called 普陀珞珈 (Pǔtuó luò jiā), 普陀山 (Pǔtuó shān), but it is 普陀 (Pǔtuó) and 珞珈 (Luò jiā), two islands. That’s it. That’s Putuo Shan.  Traditionally, that’s how you get there. When you‘re in Putuo Shan, you look across a stretch of water straight and over there on the horizon is the small island called 珞珈山 (Luò jiā shān). To go from one to the other, you get on board a much smaller vessel and because not everybody wants to go to the smaller island, the vessel is kind of like the open deck pleasure craft, kind of crisp-craft that will hold maybe about 20 people. Not so big. I don’t know how many feet that is in marine terms, probably 20 feet boat something like that and it’s not a ship, but a boat. 

My goodness! That stretch of water is treacherous. Weather blows up really quick. And boy, do I have a story about my crossing from 普陀 (Pǔtuó) to 珞珈山 (Luò jiā shān), 那個海島. That island. So we’ll talk about that. Not today. I’m just going to tease you today and leave you wanting more from that story.  

But, what do we have? We started out with fire. If those who holds the name of Guan Yin Bodhisattva should fall into a conflagration, holocaust, fire, the fire won’t burn them because why? Because of Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s awesome spiritual power.  

But, notice if one man among the merchants calls the name of Guan Yin Bodhisattva 念彼觀音力 (Niàn bǐ guānyīn lì), to recall Guan Yin Bodhisattva 威神力 (Wēi shén lì), her incredible spiritual strength, all will be saved from the fire, from the flood, from the ghosts, from the rakshasas.  Alright, so, here’s where my story begins.  

I was a witness to this story.  If you will recall, just a very few short years back. A fire, a forest fire, broke out in Northern California. I was in a habit of going to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas on Sundays. I would go on a lecture at Berkeley on a Saturday night and in the morning, drive up to CTTB or in the afternoon often and then lecture and then come home. And, the lecture went fine. I decided I was going to go back Monday morning and spend the night so driving up at 3pm through Santa Rosa, Windsor, Calistoga, Coverdale, and then went up Hopland, everything was normal and fine. There was nothing unusual.  

Gave my lecture, went to sleep, woke up, wanted to get in the car and everything had changed.  There was intense smoke in the air and ash and warnings that driving through Santa Rosa, the highway might be blocked. I jumped in the car and drove south. In the time between the time I went to sleep and the time I woke up early, an intense forest fire has broken out.  

This is the picture from Redwood Valley, which is 20 miles north. These are monks of Abhayagiri Monastery where people do indeed recite the name of Guan Yin Bodhisattva, but equally importantly cultivate the way. The monks in the Thai forest tradition cultivate hard. They keep their Buddha Hall ceremonies regular. They each have their meditation practices. They follow the Buddhas Vinaya and it’s a place where lots of energy is given to practice the Buddha’s way including reciting the name of Guan Yin. Bhikkhu Jodipalo tells us about his practice. South of Redwood Valley looking to the forest, you see the stars in the sky and the size of the forest fire that descended on Northern California that night.  

So, the monks at Abhayagiri, now I made it through Highway 1, past Santa Rosa and remember the coffee—was it Coffee Ridge neighborhood? There were flames burning on both sides of the road as I drove South, and clearly there was going to be serious loss as I made it across the Richmond bridge into Berkeley and started to discover the extent of the damage in Sonoma County, Mendocino County, Lake County. 

The monks at Abhayagiri at two and three in the morning heard the sound from the neighborhood and, you know, they’re way out on Tomki Road at the end of the road although it’s not actually, it’s the end of the paved road, two lanes become one lane, one lane becomes a dirt track. That’s the way out. They had agreed with their neighbors over the years that if there was ever any sort of necessity, they would blow air horns, honk…honk…, that irritating sound that you hear from the stands of football stadiums. When there’s one ugg…and there’s two honk…honk.. and then there’s steady honk..honk..honk..honk like that (Dharma Master Heng Sure imitates the sound of a horn); when the air horn blows steady, it’s evacuate, there’s trouble.

Ajahn Jotipalo tells us the story. He was in charge because the Abbot of Abhayagiri, Ajahn Pasanno, had gone to Vermont to attend ceremonies for the opening of a new temple. He was called away on official duties to the East Coast, to the Green Mountains. He wasn’t on campus and so there were 20 some people including laypeople, they had seven vehicles, but the sound of the air horns brought everybody out of their cuddies on the mountain side to this scene (Dharma Master Heng Sure shows photos), this is what they saw when they came out of their cuddies and the neighbors were going honk, honk, honk. Escape. Run. Evacuated. 

So the monks got into the vehicles that they had and decided that they had to abandon their Prius because why? The neighbors came and said, “do not try to go out Tomki Road. It’s blocked. You can’t go out to the highway. You can’t get out to Highway 101. You’ve got to go over the mountain track.”

So they left the Prius. They got in the pick up truck and there were too many people for the vehicles that they had. And the stories within a story, Ajahn Jotipalo said they had to consider running for it on foot, and here came a line of big SUVs with plenty of storage and seating and the trucks nearly ran them down as they accelerated into the mountains. Why? It was the local marijuana growers who were rushing to save their crop nevermind the people. So they were almost run over by the local growers. And then a beaten up pickup drove up and said, “get on board. Don’t leave anybody behind. Have you got everybody?” There’s a local neighbor who had room for all in their truck that was riding on the springs over this seven creeks that the trail crossed in order to get to Willits. 

They got to Willits and here in Willits was the YMCA with fitness rooms for the monks to sleep in. They called that “Monastary” (Dharma Master Heng Sure shows pictures). They put up (it was in the high school) a sign so the monks could have their own space. Nevermind the spelling, right. Monastery with an “e” is correct. So the monks were so grateful that here in Willits High, they were invited to be welcomed in Willits, thanks to the Red Cross—gave them their own space. 

The fires were burning on all sides. Nobody knew what the extent of the destruction was. And of course, Ajahn Pasanno was a continent away, the other side of the country—just needing a report, an update every hour from the monks. So they were wondering what to do, where to go. The monks first of all went out to a Buddhist community near the coast. They went west on the highways because the fires were pretty much to the east at this point. And they got a call. We heard about the situation. Somebody called us and said, you know the Abhayagiri monks need a place to stay. So they spent the night in a layman’s home over there on the coast and discovered that this was not going to work, but here a community escaped and they didn’t know what was going on with their land.

So they all were reciting, being mindful. Those who had Guan Yin’s name as a practice recited Guan Yin’s name and it was a disaster. Truly a 大火 (Dàhuǒ). Our monk Jin Chuan Shr heard the story that the monks were loose and looking for a home, contacted the administration at City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and immediately put in a call and said please come to CTTB. We have room for you, you’ll be welcomed, you’ll be safe. And the monks said, “we’re coming.”

So this was the arrival of the Abhayagiri Sangha at CTTB and we have various photographs here of what it was like with the two Sanghas together; chanting together, working together. At this point, Ajahn Pasanno had returned. Welcoming all the Sangha and the laity to the community—the mixed Mahayana, Theravada community at CTTB. 

Here the Abhayagiri laity joined in at the City. Anagarikas continue their training. Everybody pitching into the work. When you have all of these strong vital monks all worried about their own monastery, what’s going on? And that energy is put to work. 

Here’s Ajahn Pasanno. (Picture). It was quite a wonderful situation actually. The kind of thing that you wish could happen more often you know. Here watching, looking at the robes mixed in Mahayana, Theravada together inside CTTB. Put them up. Everybody in harmony. Clearly, Master Hua would approve of this kind of community. 

The situation was such that, we had to depend upon briefings by the local fire marshal who every day would tell the residents who had been evacuated that night, running for their very life. Indeed, running for their life when was it safe to return and the answer was always not yet. Abhayagiri and CTTB working hard together. There was a week, I think it might have been 10 days if I’m not mistaken, when everybody was just hanging on the sheriff’s briefing. Here they are. The television on. The computer on. Looking, waiting for the news. And the authorities, this I think they are attending, I think they went in-person to the briefing. There are people so many Ukiah neighbors showed up just because everybody on the east side of the highway had no notice, they didn’t know whether they were going to show up and find their homes ashes. This was life during that week. 

And then the news came from the sheriff that based on the flyovers from the helicopter, based on report from the Cal firefighter, now was the time to go back so Ajahn Passano from Shrfu’s seat gave their “thank you”s, their final Dharma talks, paid their respects, made their plans internally. Here’s Ajahn Jotipalo telling the story of the escape and personally, I remember going into what was known as the old library, for a few years, it became the DRBU building, but it used to be called the Guest Building; it was the first actual structure of CTTB when it was the hospital. 

Looking over the shoulder of Ajahn Jotipalo because someone had passed them the websites of a Cal Fire maintenance website that was internal that shows heat signatures taken from a spacecraft. So a satellite was giving a reading of the forest below where the heat was and as far as they could tell, as close as they could identify on the map, the location of Abhayagiri was a little dot green surrounded by red, where the fire had burned so in those days, in that week when there was no news about what had happened to Abhayagiri, their own research showed that there was a spot of green. 

Could that be the monastery? Could they have survived? And Abhayagiri had just finished building their brand new Buddha Hall and Activity Center, a major work of years and all of their financial resources put into the design and construction of this brand new facility that had not yet been opened; it was due to be opened in the next two months and the fires came. So don’t you know the poignancy of this time? 

The sheriff, the fire marshal says, “you may return, you can go back.” A caravan back to the monastery, up Highway 101, turning right at West Road, going past all the vineyards, going to the intersection of Tomki Road, which is Redwood Valley and discovering the extent of the devastation of these horrible fires, driving past their neighbors, West Road, arriving at Abhayagiri. 

See the looks on their faces (Dharma Master Heng Sure shows pictures.) What is left? Seeing to everyone’s amazement that Cal Fire had stationed so many of their vehicles in the parking lot at Abhayagiri. It was a staging station for all of the neighboring firefighting efforts were stopped there, and they had all of the water trucks and the fire trucks and the SUVs and all that they used were right there in the parking lot and firefighters go, “Oh, are you, you’re the owners here?” 

They said. “Well, we have a story for you,” they said. Up the steps to the new building, nothing burned. Nothing burned. Monks and laity alike put their palms together and bowed. The situation was controlled to the max by the National Guard, by firefighters, by sheriffs, by police because this was dangerous — the air is toxic, the water is toxic because of the ashes, and all of the things that burned, and there’s still pockets of fire left so everything was controlled and the monks started walking around the perimeter and discovered their neighbors’ houses burned; only a Buddha left! This was someone’s home, but they found the Buddha unburned. The neighbors, Tomki Road, nothing left, ashes. The fire was still being extinguished on all sides. 

Here were firefighters from New Mexico, many of them, interestingly, Apache Indians. This is the parking lot at Abhayagiri, and what did they say? They said, “Oh, you’re the guys who live here? Yeah, we got to tell you. Whatever you’re doing here, keep doing it. We’ve been fighting fires all over the West, we have never seen a forest reject the fire. The fire came over the ridge, heading for your place and stopped, turned around and went back; some sort of juju; whatever you guys got going on, keep doing it,” they said. 

These are not Buddhists, right, these are rough and tumble firefighters from New Mexico, from Texas, from Southern California including prisoners out fighting fires on good behavior, and they were amazed at what they saw, the behavior of the fire. Ajahn Jotipalo hugged every firefighter who would let him. The fire came over the ridge, got to the monastery’s property and stopped; it didn’t burn the propane tanks.

This is the scene, still burning; these are firefighters who developed a very wholesome faith in Buddhism because as they said, “your forest rejected the fire.” How could this be? Some trees were still burning. Here’s fire. Somehow, we sustained no structural damage. The fire seemed to avoid all our structures. Singed the outside of the water tanks, but it didn’t burn them; the fire burned to the edge of the property and stopped, it didn’t burn this wooden shrine. One bridge needed to be repaired, two wooden steps; something about Abhayagiri where monks recite the Buddha’s name, meditate, hold the precepts, recite Guan Yin’s name, something prevented the fire from burning further. 

Here is a shrine to one of their laymen and the fire burned to the edge of the property, but it wouldn’t cross. This is a shrine to Ajahn Chah made of wood, the fire burned to within feet of it, but it didn’t burn. Here’s a Buddha image looking out over the devastation. On the boundaries, the trees died, and the firemen, firefighters with their bulldozers made a trail break, and certainly their work was essential. Ryan saved Redwood Valley rancheria, Native Americans home, fought the fire all night long; bulldozers came through; Cal Fire continuing to repair the fire breaks, and Abhayagiri along with their new construction of the building had just paved a new road, and the road was blacktop. Here in Australia, they call it bitumen, blacktop, and it’s very vulnerable to the treads of these huge heavy fire fighting machines, well, the firefighters laid down plywood so that the treads wouldn’t tear up the road. These are native American fire crew from Arizona protecting the road because they recognized what damage their machines would do if they didn’t look at that. 

Now, the story continues. There’s more to this because right next door on all sides were the homes of people connected to the monastery; their homes burned to the ground. The community walked over; often, in many cases, the only thing that survived was the Buddha image; everything else perished in the flames; a birdhouse unburned, but you can see the extent, the trees are all blackened. NBC came out and interviewed one of their laywomen who lost everything.

He found other images in the ashes. So the monks and friends made a circle. Here is the Prius that was abandoned because they couldn’t cross the creeks on the evacuation night, survived (Dharma Master Heng Sure shows pictures). Here’s another Buddha that didn’t burn. But you can see the loss and yet somehow Abhayagiri itself remained unburned. Here’s an image that came out of the ashes. This, if anything, is a powerful symbol of the Buddhadharma’s strength in surviving catastrophes as it did in China after many purges by evil-minded emperors. Cal Fire moving in, the rains return. 

This is Tuesday, two days later. After the rain, the vegetation returns. The rain starts to fall putting out the last of the embers, but the fire crews continue to protect the land. The crews would get a lot more done if we stopped hugging them. Wildlife coming back.

And work continues on the new hall, but when I said the story goes on, it’s that right next door to Abhayagiri is another monastery not the Catholic monastery, it’s their Mount Tabor, but it’s a Thai name, KPY. It was bought by a fellow Thai monk who knew Ajahn Chah’s reputation and was looking for a way to kind of borrow the light of Abhayagiri, and built a monastery right next door. But had no monks, only a caretaker. And as a result the images were there, but there was no cultivation going on. Nobody recited Guan Yin’s name. When the fires came, that monastery burned. 

Here’s the caretaker, describing. See the burned trees. Look at the remains of what could be sacred space, but no one reciting Guan Yin’s name. Nobody cultivating the Way. No monks there, just a caretaker. It burned. Alms bowls that no one was using got singed and scorched even the Buddha images didn’t survive here because it had the outer form of the Dharma, but it didn’t have the heart. It wasn’t cultivated. How tragic. 

Thirty three Buddha images were collected. So indeed the last remaining part of a Buddha image. Talk about the symbol of the necessity to cultivate the Way. And how marvelous that the Catholic monastery Mount Tabor, which was also right next door, because the monks of Mount Tabor the neighbors of Abhayagiri are vigorous in their cultivation of their Catholic faith, their monastery was saved from the fire. 

Three places. Two of them—one Catholic, one Buddhist— because of the worship of the Blessed Virgin with all of the icons in the Catholic monastery, because of the worship of the Buddha and the actual cultivation and the recitation of Guan Yin’s name, Abhayagiri’s two monasteries made it through the fire. 

As the text says, if those who hold the name of Guan Yin Bodhisattva should fall into a great fire, the fire will not burn them because of Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s awesome spiritual power.” So, don’t take it from me. Just use your own eyes. 

Truly, a story for the ages happening right in Redwood Valley. Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s awesome spiritual power. “念彼观音力” says “Mindful of Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s awesome spiritual power.” 

I think the power of this mantra to bring healing where there’s illness, to bring wholeness where things are broken. To bring unity where our thoughts are scattered and emotional. I think this is the very medicine for the illness. So let’s recite in Sanskrit three times—Medicine Buddha’s mantra for anointing the crown—transfer the merit to all living beings.

Medicine Buddha’s Mantra for Anointing the Crown of the Head 藥師灌頂真言(梵文版)

Om namo bhagavate bhaisajyaguru

Vaidurayaprabharajaya tathagataya

Arhate samyaksambuddhaya tadyatha: om

Bhaisajye bhaisajye bhaisajya samudgate svaha om


English Translation:

Homage to the blessed medicinal teacher, to the king of jewel-like radiance, to the one who is like that, the worthy, the fully awakened one, thus:

To the healing, to the healing, to the hearer, awakened! Svaha!

Thanks for joining everyone. I look forward to being with you next week for more amazing stories of Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s compassionate strength in rescuing us from all kinds of troubles and difficulties. See you all next week. Please have a week of peace and joy. Amituofo! 

Contributors of this transcribing this lecture:

Yan Ming, Vera Cristofani, Justin Lee, Wenbo Yin, Thuy Bui, Annie Tran, Vera Cristofani, Susan Chai, Hong Anh Nguyen, L. Lau

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