All of these ten realms—a single thought--
Are not apart from your present thought.
If you can awaken to that thought,
You'll arrive immediately at the other shore.
-- Master Hua
This past month, the journey has taken me three quarters around the globe, from US to China to UK. But somehow, it feels like home everywhere. I have to look at each "stranger" doubly, because they seem so familiar. Perhaps, with open and reverent heart (I'm trying), one would belong anywhere in the Dharma realm, and encounter "familiar strangers" at every turn. Below are some stories along the way.
Three-steps-one-bow on Earth Day
Earth Day 2017. It was the closing day of the inaugural Spiritual Ecology Fellowship, as well as my last full day in the US (at least for a while). In the spirit of gratitude and celebration, the Fellows hosted a circumambulation around Mt. Tam, the sacred mountain of the Bay Area. We were fortunate to have two monks, Jin Chuan Shr and Chin Shien Shr, from Berkeley Buddhist Monastery to join us, and lead a mini three-step-one-bow pilgrimage at one of the stops. It was a repentance for humans' harm to Mother Earth, and a dedication of merit to all beings. Guri, Pancho, and Eva -- no strangers to the bowing practice -- were with us, too.
The group of 30 young Americans -- most of whom have perhaps never bowed like this -- lined up with folded palms and downcast eyes, and bowed in reverent silence along a narrow dirt trail halfway up Mt. Tam. Afterward, we sang Dedication of Merit in a circle.
Personally, life came full circle at that moment: three and a half years ago, when I attended Awakin Circle at Santa Clara for the first time, Guri gifted me a book at the end of the evening. That book, Highway Dharma Letters, and the communities connected with it, have changed my life, and planted the seeds for my current journey. In that book, the two monks -- "bowing with one heart to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas" -- had actually bowed through Mt. Tam almost exactly 40 years ago! I could not have wished for a better way to express my gratitude (in the tiniest way).
Meditation globalized -- via Stephen Curry and Homo Deus
The afternoon before leaving the US, Nipun converted me into a Golden State Warriors fan (citing the basketball team's value of teamwork and kindness…), and introduced me to the thought-provoking bestseller Homo Deus (written by a Vipassana meditator and assistant teacher).
Well, guess what's the first poster I saw upon landing at Beijing Airport the next day! It was Stephen Curry (selling a smart phone, though). And I continue to see his photo all over China (selling the same smart phone).
The next day, I joined Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn's delegation to visit Longquan Monastery in Beijing. Dr. Kabat-Zinn gave a talk to hundreds of monks and volunteers, and mentioned his colleagues work with Steve Kerr on mindfulness while Kerr was at Bulls. Kerr later on brought mindfulness practice to the Warriors, contributing to their team culture and success.
A week later, while at the Vipassana center in Inner Mongolia, I was speaking about the Warriors to a fellow Dhamma worker. Another college-aged server from upstairs overheard us, ran down the stairs, and said excitedly, "Did someone mention Curry? I am a fan! I used to like LeBron James, but now I much prefer Curry. Curry plays with mind and heart, not just muscle."
At the end of the 10-day Vipassana course, the teacher (who is the Regional Teacher for Greater China) gifted my dad two books. Lo and behold, they were Homo Deus and Sapiens (by the same author) translated into Chinese! The books are current bestsellers in China. Homo Deus is dedicated "To my teacher, S.N. Goenka (1924-2013), who lovingly taught me important things."(Goenka is one of the main Vipassana teachers who brought this technique to the secular modern world.)
One Pacific Ocean apart, people seem to be increasingly on the same Dharma wavelength -- special thanks to Stephen Curry! #OaklandPride :)
Dharma Masters in Beijing
On my flight from San Francisco to Beijing, I tried hour-long meditation sits for the first time at 30,000 feet. It worked great, perhaps thanks to the proximity to the Dharma-protecting dragons :) Which reminded me of this story I heard from Marty:
Once Master Hua came across a politician acquaintance at the San Francisco airport. The politician recognized Master Hua, went up and greeted, "I am about to hop on a plane to do this and that amazing thing for the public. What are you up to?" Master Hua responded, "I am going to fly to the heaven and ask the dragons to rain." The politicians laughed and said, "That's a good one." But sure enough, as Master Hua was mid-air, it rained heavily out of the blue during that year's drought.
Upon landing in Beijing, and before having a chance to drop off the heavy bags, I paid a visit to Ms. Tam, one of Master Hua's early disciples, and the current volunteer leader for spreading Dharma teachings in China. It was a great honor to meet Ms. Tam, and hear stories from the early years, as well as the experiences of bringing Master's teaching back to mainland China.
The next day, I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Kabat-Zinn and Master Xue Cheng, abbot of Longquan Monastery. (Longquan is also old friends with the CTTB community.) Dr. Kabat-Zinn has been at the forefront of introducing the essence of Buddhist meditation to a secular, scholarly, scientific and Western audience. Master Xue Cheng also has these five goals:
1. Connect traditional Buddhist teachings with contemporary ways of thinking and sciences.
2. Update the monastic code with inputs from modern management practices.
3. Educate and prepare monastic and lay people for Dharma work.
4. Find new ways for Buddhism to serve the needs of society.
5. Offer the best of traditional Chinese culture (including Confucianism, Daoism, etc) to the wider world.
These endeavors are strikingly similar to Master Hua's work when he came to the West 60 years ago. Master Hua and his disciples have been working to:
1. Bring proper Dharma to the West, and established ordained sangha with Western practitioners.
2. Translate the Buddhist canons to major world languages.
3. Create educational institutions/pedagogies based upon Buddha's teaching.
4. Promote harmony and cooperation between various Buddhist lineages, and between world religions.
From my limited glimpses into the vast vows of Master Hua, Master Xue Cheng, and Dr. Kabat-Zinn, their values and work seem to be strikingly consistent. They are building bridges between ancient and modern, East and West, wisdom and science, spiritual and worldly, faith and faith. Their personalities are refreshingly humble, open-minded, non-sectarian, and entrepreneurial. I bow to these Bodhisattvas for manifesting the timeless principles in all the skillful ways.
While in Beijing, I also met up with brother Nitin from India. I met Nitin at a Moved By Loved retreat in Ahmedabad, and was moved to gifted him my bicycle, as Nitin was about to start his own bicycling pilgrimage around the world in honor of Gandhi's 150 anniversary. Well, exactly six month later, Nitin rode that bike into Beijing, and we met at Longquan Monastery!
Vipassana in China
After 36 hours in Beijing (of abundant Dharma joy and not much sleep), I flew back to our hometown, Baotou, Inner Mongolia (a Northern Chinese province adjacent to the country Mongolia), to serve a 10-day Vipassana course where my parents are sitting -- and my mom's first!
I haven't seen my parents for almost a year. And hours after we finally met in person, we went straight into 10 days of silence -- no spoken or bodily communication of any sort. We sat no more than a few meters apart from each other in the meditation hall, but we were each in our own world, working toward inner purification and compassion. This scene felt at times familiar, and at times unbelievable. It was less than three year ago that I sat my first 10-day, causing suspicion and worry from my parents. Now, we are fellow cultivators sitting in the same hall! As I contemplate how many lifetimes my parents and I must have been each other's Dharma friend, tears came into my closed eyes.
After the course, our family got the privilege to drive the course teacher, Mr. Xiao, around for half a day. Mr. Xiao is my dad's teacher and role model. At the age of 74, Mr. Xiao tirelessly travels all over China and Taiwan to set deep roots for Vipassana's long-term presence in China. Mr. Xiao's virtue, selflessness, and skillfulness have inspired my father to have full faith in this path.
When Goenkaji first visited Taiwan in late 1990s, Mr. Xiao served as his driver and interpreter for a whole month. Mr. Xiao shared many heart-warming stories. Whenever Goenka gets into Mr. Xiao's car, Goenka would raise a hand, drop to into meditation, and chant his trademark verses as a blessing for the journey and for all the living being encountered along the way. When Mr. Xiao reminded Goenka to put on the seatbelt, Goenka joked, "Are you trying to put a bondage on a liberated person?" Mr. Xiao responded, "You follow the law of nature, but I also have to follow the laws of Taiwan." At the end of the month, Goenka said to a group, "Mr. Xiao has so kindly taken me all the way around Taiwan. Now it is my turn to take him all the way to Nibbana." We felt blessed to be in such enlightened and compassionate company.
This was also my first Vipassana experience in China. I was greatly encouraged by the "State of the Dharma" in my home country. To start, who would have thought that our hometown -- a backwater city in the Gobi desert -- is home to one of the seven Vipassana centers in China! Students and volunteers from around the country came to learn and serve here. The diligence and proper management of the meditation center is on par with the best of what I've experienced in the US, thanks to the strictness and skillfulness of the Teachers. Vipassana is also attracting an increasingly younger and better educated crowd. Clearly, the clock has struck!
Of course, the spread of Vipassana faces unique challenges in China because of the government's attitude toward anything organized, especially "religion". And good luck explaining to the bureaucrats that Vipassana is not a religion :)
Bodhisattvas at home
I spent the past decade in the West, thinking that I would learn something new to bring back. Gradually, I realized that I am only returning to the roots. Similarly, in the past years, I've bowed to many Bodhisattva statues outside, but upon returning home, I am starting to recognize the living Bodhisattvas at home -- my grandparents.
My grandma always says, "Never do any harm. Don't do even the smallest evil. And help others according to your ability, whenever you can." The four grandparents have truly lived these virtues in simple and humble ways. They have remained true during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution and social chaos.
Even though they are staunch atheist, I am surprised to discover Buddha statues and images placed at the most dignified -- but out of view -- places in their homes. When I ask them why they places these symbols at home, they brush it off by saying, "Oh, I don't remember. Maybe your uncle brought it." But seeing how they have lived a life of virtue and service, I am starting to suspect that they might be Bodhisattvas in disguise :)
On the surface, my grandparents say that they don't fully understand what I am up to, and worry about my safety. But in my heart, I know that the mission that called me was a direct result of their merits and virtue. I know that the goodness I receive is the fruits of their cultivation and blessings.
So, before we said our final goodbye on this trip, I went down on my knees and sincerely bowed, for the first time in my life, to my grandparents -- the Bodhisattvas at home.
Mr. An Jinlei and Living Education
Exactly a year ago, I met Mr. An Jinlei, the Zen farmer of China, while he was in Los Angeles to receive a Common Good Prize. A few short days with him had revolutionized my notion about not just farming and agriculture, but also diet, health, elderly care, children's education, and many seemingly unrelated fields. I knew I was in the presence of an enlightened person. Despite his intentionally low profile, respected monks from around China are fans of Mr. An's work, including the current abbot of Bailin Monastery.
On our drive from Inner Mongolia back to Shanghai, my parents and I had the good fortune to spend three days with Mr. An, and learn from his wisdom that grew out of soil. We were filled with excitement and hope, as we hear Mr. An -- an inconspicuous man in his mid-forties -- systematically explain his vision on reviving "the village" and creating living community for the whole person/family, based on cultivation of virtue and wisdom. We recognized that this could be a real and fundamental solution to much of industrial society's intractable problems.
We knew we were getting a glimpse of something significant and rare, but felt incapable of explaining it yet. This much I can say: meeting Mr. An has put an end to any plan of mine to go to graduate school, because even the world's best graduate school (on ecology, environmental, agricultural science, or Chinese classics) pales in comparison to one year on the land with Mr. An. As a self-taught farmer, Mr. An has a deeper grasp on the Chinese classics than any scholars I've met; his land-based wisdom is orders of magnitude beyond any agricultural specialists or policy advisors.
Some anecdotes I can indeed share. Mr. An never sells his crops. He only gifts them away. And even that, not by weight, but by "shares". For example, he would gift 30 meals' share of millet to cancer patients, much like doctors would prescribe medicine. He turns down any commercial offer to brand his products. A friend asked him how they should price a family summer camp. Mr. An responded without pause: "If you need to put a price on it, then just don't do it."
When Mr. An was a child, he naturally slept in the sitting posture. When he first slept in a dormitory, he was surprised to find that everyone else actually slept lying down! Mr. An was also a born vegetarian, and will spit out any meat his parents tried to feed him. Last year, when he came to Los Angeles to receive the prize in early May, he promised a few of us, "If my heart is sincere, it will rain during my time here." We were worried that he might have set himself up for failure, because California was in the middle of a severe drought; and it doesn't rain at this time even during normal years. So a friend said, "It drizzled the day before you arrived. That should count." Mr. An said, "No, it doesn't count because I hadn't arrived yet." To everyone's surprise, it really rained the day before Mr. An went back to China.
Will stay tuned for more :)
Family in London
After 36 hours at home in Shanghai, the journey started again. I flew to UK to start the bicycling pilgrimage from Europe to China. Being a first time visitor, I knew only two people in the whole country. But I felt an instant warmth and belonging at the home of Trishna, a bedrock of the London ServiceSpace community, and a supermom who goes above and beyond with a loving heart in everything she does :)
I know I am home, when on our first morning walk along the Thames, I saw the same Buddha statue as the one at the World Peace Pagoda in Lumbini, Nepal.
I know I am home when Trishna's intuition led us to have a chance encounter with a kindred spirit, artist Milan Rai, who has been sending out thousands of white butterflies around the world as gifts.
I know I am home when, circles after circles, I look into the eyes of "familiar strangers" and witness the "thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground".
One morning, as I opened the guest room door, I found an envelope outside. It turned out to be a full deposit for the bicycle I was planning to buy for the remainder of the pilgrimage! I was speechless and a bit dizzy. In awe of being swept into the chain reaction of love, and only wish to be worthy of being a vehicle. Long ways to go, for sure :)
Friends took me to the bike store to pick out the bike. Then they held an spontaneous blessing for the new travel companion. Truly, it is on the wings of their blessings -- and the blessings of all ancestors and teachers -- that I ride into the coming unknown.
P.S. More photos in this shared album :)
A pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.