Thay’s talk to the Volunteers (1)

Dear all volunteers,

When volunteering our services, we need to think of the outcome of our work. What kind of result would we want to see?

We want all attendees to remember us for our dedicated services for weeks, months, or even years. We want them to think that we are very optimistic, devoted and enthusiastic volunteers whom they would like to befriend and come back again to meet, to talk to and to feel our warmth and care.

To achieve this result, what do we have to do? How can we impress those who come to pay respect to the Buddha and practice their cultivation? How can we leave good lasting images in their minds and make them feel warm and relaxed?

There are two important types of people. The first type includes those who are like uninvited guests in our heads; they live inside us and make us suffer. Those are the people that brought on our hatred, resentment, anger, sulking, love, jealousy, and so on.  This means that we are too attached to them; they stay in our heads whether we want to or not. Our heads become their free lodgings or free hotel rooms which they refuse to leave no matter what we do. In most cases, it’s because we invite them in. When we hate some people, we ask them to come into our heads, our nerve cells, and our memories. It is difficult to get rid of them. Once they are inside, they cannot leave due to some chemical reactions.

So when we hate or resent someone, we just overload our heads, or rather, our cerebrum, instead of our minds, preventing us from feeling relaxed and happy, depriving us from seeing the boundless sky. We have framed the paths of our brains and limited them to negative feelings. Our uninvited guests will make us unable to feel joyful or to smile easily with everyone.

Just imagine ourselves entering a room and seeing someone that we hate or resent; we cannot smile cheerfully to other people in there. We would feel uncomfortable right away. After a long time, that negative feeling can make us sick. Therefore, our responsibility as volunteers is not to become this type of person. We should become the second type.

What is the second type of people?  They are the people who make us feel very relaxed, joyful and happy when they enter our heads, when we remember them or think of them. They radiate lights in our heads. Lights are wisdom and warmth. We admire them and enjoy being close to them. They are not possessive and make us miserable. They give the light and warmth from their hearts as well as from their admirable and loving actions. These are the people of the lights, the type of people who liberate our brains, and open up our memory.  When we think of them, our memory will light up with happiness; the chemical in our brains will change to soften up their images.


When we serve or volunteer for an organization, a pagoda, a church, or at the Amitabha Dharma Assembly this year, we should become those who bring light, gentleness and smiles to other people. Surely you often remember going to a place where you were welcome with beautiful smiles, with gentle and kind voices, with caring people who held your hands and took you to where you wanted to go, and spent time to explain things to you with caring expression. These are folks that we will always remember even though we might not remember what the dharma master said or what we ate. We remember this type of people because they radiated light to our minds and made us feel very happy and relaxed.

The first type of people brings darkness while the second type brings light. We should try to emulate this second type in order to succeed in our volunteer services.

Someone reported to me: “Those volunteers did a great job during their service hours, but only gossiped during their off-hours.” People passing by can see clearly when volunteers behave badly, when their manners, words, and actions are not lovable, quite different from when they are working. It has been said that they are like the light when serving, but like the darkness when chit-chatting. Therefore your image is very important. You have to become a person of light, and try to convey a good image in people’s minds. That image will become your life, which means that you live truly with your actions for other people to feel the light.

We all make mistakes. But we can change from darkness to light. This is the most important virtue of volunteers. When volunteering our services, we should practice giving tender loving care to others so they can feel our warmth. Then we should do the same thing at home with our parents, spouses, children and other loved ones. These kinds of services will surely change our lives later on.

We should not always stay in darkness and be the first type of people, always negative. We must have hope. Therefore we engage in services to bring hope to our hearts and to the hearts of others. We want to prove that human beings always transcend and step out of their own swamps. Giving services is a very noble and beautiful virtue. It also presents a very important character in life: we can become the lights in other people’s heads, brains, and minds. We should try to constantly improve those lights in our heads, brains, and minds too.

Therefore, you volunteers should first think of ways to bring forth your beauties and radiate these beauties to the people you serve. This is the very basic philosophy of the virtue of services for those in the Usher Team, for those who serve to help others.

Thay’s talk to the volunteers (2)

Dear all volunteers,

I mentioned briefly yesterday about what we want to accomplish when giving services. Today I’d like to add a second important characteristic that should be carried out soon after you join a service team. It is to convey all that is wonderful and interesting, all that you’ve understood, learned, and acquired from the Compassionate Service Society, your volunteer work, and your friends. This should be done promptly. It is a way to affirm yourselves.

When you join a volunteer service, first you need to understand clearly the significance of your job. You should pick up and read all available brochures and flyers. Volunteering is the way you advance on the path of ideology.

The Amitabha Dharma Assembly is where we would want all participants to be open, and to open their innate infinite lights. As human beings, we all make mistakes, have shortcomings, and face difficulties in life. But now we want to put them aside and only focus on how to open up what is bright, wonderful, and beautiful. Just like when we have a piece of weedy field, we have to get rid of the weeds and continue to plant the rice. We have yet to succeed if we only weed the field without planting the rice.

During the dharma assembly, it is not time for weeding. It is time for planting, for focusing on good influences. This is very important, because the more rice we cultivate and take care of, the less weed can grow. Hence we should make good use of every opportunity to emit lights.

Upon joining a volunteer team, we should focus on the do-good ideology to open our minds. While working together in the days and weeks ahead, we should share our good and positive points or experiences with others, as well as asking them to share theirs with us and with other attendees, new or old. This training period is not just for the dharma assembly but also for the rest of our lives.  It focuses on developing our good qualities. The sharing of good experiences should be done promptly at any level.

Yesterday when I came here, I saw a volunteer adjusting some flower vases. Then an attendee walked to her and asked her something. She stopped what she was doing, talked to this person, took her hand and led her to the altar. It turned out that this person wanted to get a close look at the Buddhist altar, so the volunteer willingly took her there. That action was clearly one of caring. I saw it, and I’m sharing the story with you right away. You don’t need to wait till you’ve practiced for many years. We should promptly share all the good and beautiful things that we saw.

When we do volunteer services, work and cultivate together, if we don’t share all the good stories, then people will never know; instead, they will only focus on gossiping and talking about bad things.  Therefore, we have to help each other develop all the goodness and beauty.

The second basic point is to share all the good things that we see from people around us and from all the volunteers. We should not look at their shortcomings. Just like when you enter a house, you don’t want to look at the cracks on the walls, the stains around the sink, the ugly corners, or spots on the carpet. On the contrary, we want to see things in general, the beautiful and interesting parts of the rooms.

It is not that we don’t want to look at the bad and the ugly; it is just not the right time yet. We should look at the good first, then gradually improve the bad. In addition, we should share what is good; there is no need to share what is bad, small, or petty.

So the second and most important characteristic in doing volunteer services is to share with each other all the good things we see in each other. Just yesterday, I saw so many good things from the volunteers of the San Jose Compassionate Service Society. You could see right away the beauty in what they did. You might say that seemed superficial. No, we might see it as superficial, but sharing is the depth of spirituality. Hence, the more we see the goodness in others, the more we should share. The more we interpret others’ inner minds, the more our minds improve. The more our minds improve, the more we attract those in search of beauty to us.

The best thing for a volunteer when joining a group is not to listen to gossips, but to share good things with others. For example, someone might say, “Oh, that so-and-so lives in a house like this; her husband is like that; her kids are like this; her business is like that, etc.”, then we should respond, “That’s not important. That’s normal for human beings. The good thing is that she’s here to give services and to share her good quality. The beauty I see in her is like this…” And we would list them out.

Dear volunteers, doing so will heighten our spirit day by day, not lower it. The biggest malady for us when joining a certain group is to focus on other people’s mistakes and criticize them because we want to find an ideal group. I have my faults; others around here have theirs. If we use those faults as an excuse to leave the group, to look for an ideal group or place, we will never find it because our minds are not set to improve, to radiate lights. We only look for security, for a safe place. We want to go to nirvana, to heaven, a place without faults; we want to look for a group without any stigma, a friend without any shortcomings. This can never happen in this universe, in this mundane world.

We can find beauty right in our minds and can share it with everybody. Our minds can see beauty in others. For example, while walking, you see a beautiful flower, so you look at it even though there are all kinds of trash around.

When you do volunteer services, you have chosen the path of sacrifice to find and share beauty. Our next step is to find beauty in the people around us, and promptly share it with friends and guests at our dharma assembly.

Thay’s talk to the Volunteers (3)

I have talked about how we should begin by making connections, by knowing how to promptly share good experiences and positive feedback with others.  Today, in this third talk, I would like to speak about a very important characteristic for an instructor, a volunteer, a lecturer, or anyone who serves the public in any capacity: Humility.  Humility is a very important characteristic that an instructor, a lecturer, a meditation instructor and all those who serve the public need to have.


Humility-humility (khiêm khiêm) is the way of the sages: humility, then more humility.  The word humility is very interesting; it means that one’s speech needs to be very modest.  In the I Ching, the hexagram “Khiêm” is the fifteenth hexagram; it said that we cannot look at the image “Địa Sơn Thiên” without being deeply touched.  “Địa” is the Earth and “Sơn” is the mountain.  “Địa Sơn” is the mountain beneath the earth.  It means that even with such talent that shifts the Heaven or moves the Earth, one should not blatantly show it off but should remain serene.  One’s manner, facial expression, smiles, etc., should not indicate to others one’s vanity, or the feeling that one is better, or more talented.


Normally, we respect others because they have an abundance of loving-kindness, warmth, and forgiveness.  We admire the qualities that touch our hearts and minds; we don’t just admire people because they are accomplished.  Although, in Western culture, we always need to let others know who we are.  There is nothing wrong with this, because if they don’t know about us, how will they utilize our talent? Therefore, letting people know who we are is very important.  We have to introduce ourselves like when we write our resumes, for example.  We need to let people know about our profession, our workplace, and our experience.  This is the usual thing.


However, in relationship with others, normally for Vietnamese or other Asians, you can see that we seldom need to know the other person’s profession or position.  Nobody will enquire about that.  Americans on the other hand, would ask very thoroughly; they ask to get to know the other person.  Usually their respect would derive from your background, position or education, the qualities that you can delineate. For Asians, we don’t pay much attention to these qualities but more to a person’s character. What did you do that brought about my respect, my love, and my affection?  Asian culture is different; therefore when we Asians meet for the first time, you seldom see that we ask about each other’s profession or ranking.  We also don’t have the habit of giving each other business cards to introduce ourselves, but for the Westerner, this is the obvious thing to do.


When I was in Japan, I didn’t know that the Japanese also have the habit of giving each other business cards.  I asked a tour guide: “Do you know if this habit of giving each other business card is the practice from long ago or just recently?” She answered: “ Probably only recently but I’m not certain.”  She was about 50 or 60 years old so she possibly would not know how things were dozens of years ago.  If we could ask a person from long ago, we would certainly find out that the Japanese in ancient times, even though having very clear class distinction, would not have asked each other about the other person’s talent, profession or position in society.  These things are not as important for Asians in ancient times as for people in modern times.


However, when Asian people find out the role or title of anyone, they very quickly become respectful.  They do not address that person by name but by his title, such as  “Mr. Manager” or “Mr. Dean.”


That is the kind of culture that impedes our humility.  When we are modest, we do not want to get stuck in any roles or honored titles.  To be humble is to be detached from the fanciful superficial honored appellations and to just focus on spreading our loving-kindness.  When we love others, we respect them and do not want them to suffer.  Therefore loving-kindness will lead to responsibility, respect, and mutual regard.  Loving-kindness will never lead to disdain.


Hence, when we live and serve together, we should not pay attention to others’ positions or stations in life.  We should just practice loving-kindness.  To do that, we must be humble.  I believe that among those who came to volunteer, there were many who are advanced in age, have children or grandchildren, hold a high position in society, or have many accomplishments. However, when we serve others either through ushering, transportation, or in any other capacity, we should make sure that we are only there to serve. Similar to the mountain that lies underneath the earth, when faced with abusive behaviors from the attendees, we should not retaliate with violent words.  Since we have willingly committed ourselves to serve, we should be open to accept all kinds of behavior, even if they are unkind.


It doesn’t matter how others behave or speak, we should think that we are the mountain underneath the earth therefore we should become the earth.  Don’t think that we are the mountains; only remember that we are the earth.  That way, even with our elevated positions in society, all of our accomplishments, family pride, or whether or not we are parents, grandparents, we should still be humble and gentle in our interactions with the guests.  In doing so, we evoke in them a feeling of affection, appreciation and imprint ourselves in their memories.  We do not need to show off who we are; we only need to touch people’s hearts with our loving-kindness.  They should be able to recognize that even if we are so elevated and accomplished, when we volunteer to serve, we put ourselves at the attendees’ feet for them to step on and do what they will.


In San Jose, when I passed the entrance, there were a lot of people wearing the green shirts directing traffic; I put my hands together and bowed.  I knew that many of these people have children and grandchildren, are very accomplished, and for certain, have already contributed much to society, but here in this place, they are doing some very menial, miserable tasks under the heat of the scorching sun.  I was so touched to see Mr. Nghĩa standing there, directing traffic.  Clearly, volunteering to serve is something that one has to do willingly.  We made ourselves become very small and insignificant, like specks of dust in the universe.  That is the greatest act.


We should see ourselves as little specks of dust in the boundless universe.  The opportunity to serve is a beautiful opportunity.  The vow to become this speck of dust is not to prove how good or great we are but to truly pledge to become very small and insignificant.  It should become our nature because we truly are insignificant.  Our true nature is boundless and limitless but we are still specks of dust.  This speck of dust is even smaller than an atom.


That is the main way of thinking when we volunteer to serve.  Don’t feel sad or get upset when the people we serve ignore us or treat us harshly.  We should always be gentle and remember this mantra: “I am a speck of dust, I am here to adorn this Assembly.  Because I’m a speck of dust, I want to, together with all other specks of dust, ennoble this Assembly by doing everything I can even if it is just a very minute and insignificant thing.”  This is the attitude of the Bodhisattva.  This is the exact attitude we should have when we volunteer to serve at this Amitabha Assembly.


Let us, together, hold hands and become these specks of dust in this infinite universe.

Thay’s talk to the Volunteers (4)

In the first talk, I shared with you the importance of leaving a favorable impression on the attendees after they left the event.  We want to make sure that we have acted in such a way that would leave a beautiful and lasting impact on the guests.  This is a very important aspect; it is not a superficial act, but a very profound way of life.  We may meet hundreds of thousands of people in the course of our lives but there will be those we will forever remember because of the beautiful character they possessed.  We want to be the embodiment of that beautiful character to gain access to others’ hearts and minds.  The Buddha called that the cultivation of good karma.  Good karma is wholesome karma.


Today, in this talk number four, I would like to share with you about the caring characteristic or “quan hoài” in Vietnamese.  For the word “quan”, if we talk about gateway, then there are “quan môn” (border gate) or “quan ải” (frontier post). In the series “Thiên Long Bát Bộ”, “Nhạn Môn Quan” is a far away frontier post (quan ải) where Tiêu Viễn Sơn was assassinated.  “Frontier post” indicates a very grand and important gate.  “Môn” means an important place, not just like a doorway in our house.  Therefore, the word “quan” means a very special and essential quality.


But what does “quan hoài” mean? “Hoài” means to miss.  If used as a noun then it means our heart, as in “Hoài Bão” which means heart desires.  The character for  “Hoài” is very interesting because it contains the word Heart in it. “Hoài” is always present in our heart.  Like when we love someone or miss someone, we experience nostalgia (hoài niệm) and our thoughts revolve around that person.  “Quan” and “Hoài” together is even more remarkable, it means to put someone inside the gateway of our heart and the person will stay there forever.  We hold that person always in our heart.


Now let us look back and you will see what is remarkable about the word “quan hoài” or caring:


The quality that I mentioned in the first talk is how we impress ourselves into other people’s hearts and minds, but for this fourth quality, we want to bring other people into our hearts and minds.  We have a special door and it must be opened. We have to open our hearts and minds and not have any preconceived ideas about others.


At the recent Assembly in San José, there were a lot of people who worked as traffic controllers.  Whether under the harsh sun or in freezing weather, they were always there, directing traffic.  This image remains imbedded in my mind.  Even after the event, I still remember them – still remember how they persevered in the cold or heat.  Then there were other incidences that erased my preconceived ideas.  For instant, there was this person who would show up at every assembly that I attended.  She was not too old, and she would just sit in one place, never smiled in spite of all my jokes.  However, when we entered the Mandala and she sat there listening to my lecture in meditation, she would laugh whenever I laughed and made jokes.  When I asked if there was anyone who really wants to learn this meditation method then I would show him/her, she raised her hand.  All of a sudden, I realized that all these times meeting her, I couldn’t open her heart because I thought that perhaps, she harbored sorrows.  The truth is the issue was not her but me, I didn’t open my heart, didn’t open the appropriate Dharma to teach her.  It wasn’t until I discussed meditation that she suddenly opened up.  When she smiled, my heart also opened up.  I was so happy.  That was when I thought I must teach meditation, the Hua Yen meditation method, to open up our true nature.


My feeling at that moment was like a door, a great gateway (quan ải) has opened in my heart.  I felt as if she walked softly and joyfully into my heart.  From then on, when I lectured, I would tilt my head to greet her and she would smile and greeted me back.


So you see, even though this seemed to be a small act, it was very important to me.  As much as we want to enter other people’s hearts, we want them to also enter our hearts. Just like how I let this woman enter my heart when I accepted her.  Next time if I went to San Jose to teach again, I will, for certain, ask after her so that she would feel my concern and care (quan hoài).  It would be a small act, but it would bring me much gratification.  Sometimes, we shut a lot of doors so people cannot enter.  We must speak about different things, must open up to people then they will naturally enter.  As they enter, we can then show them our care by expressing loving-kindness through our speech or actions.


The first thing we have to do is open our hearts.  What should be in our minds in order for our hearts to open so that others can enter? If, when we do volunteer work, we look at people but don’t want to come near or talk to them, we only want to get the job done, then this kind of mindset will close up our hearts and we won’t be able to give any warmth to anyone.  Therefore, this is the first door we need to open, to give people an opportunity to enter our hearts.  After they enter, we can close the door to keep them there and we will always remember them.  So “quan hoài” or Care is not an act of the moment but an act that occurs continuously for days, months and years.  When you care for someone, you pay attention to that person for months and years.  This is a long process and not just something to do once or twice then let go.


The long duration aspect of care gives one such a sense of warmth.  When we examine deeper the word care, we can find all kinds of ways to develop a caring attitude.


We open up our hearts by throwing away preconceived ideas.  We practice saying kind and warm words, practice looking deeply into other people’s eyes, practice getting closer to others.  These are the first steps.  Tomorrow I’ll talk some more about this topic of Care.

Thay’s talk to the Volunteers (5)

Yesterday I talked about the caring quality.  When we do volunteer work, we want to leave a favorable impression in people’s hearts and minds so that they will remember us for days or even for years.  The longer they remember us, the more successful we were in our tasks.  This is the first thought that will make us become more lovable, more harmonious so that people will understand and remember us more.


Caring (quan hoài) is the attitude of wanting to bring people into our hearts so that we will always remember them.  “Quan” is the gate, “hoài” relates to the heart.  We bring people through the gate of our heart and keep them in there.  This is the quality of the Bodhisattva.  Any Bodhisattva would want to cultivate good karma with living beings or always want them to feel the warmth of their caring.  “Hoài” here means to occupy with, to remember.  Not just in the heart but deep down in our belly.  In Vietnamese, heart means very deep inside, deep down in the mother’s womb where the baby lies.  That is the meaning of the word “Hoài”.  “Quan Hoài” or care means to keep deep inside.


Today, I will share with you another aspect of caring.  That is the aspect of the word “Hàm.”


“Hàm” is the 31st Hexagram in the I Ching, symbolized by the image of a mountain with a lake.  The lake’s surface reflects everything in the universe; there is nothing in the sky that it won’t reflect.  The lake’s surface does not reflect anything from below, but only reflects things from above.  What above is the highest truth, the boundless and limitless truth of the universe. It is the endless openness.  Therefore, caring  (quan hoài) is the infinite openness of our hearts. All that can be experienced from above, we welcome.  The mountain represents our ego, now we have to let go of that ego by reflecting, by the flow and the water of love.  When we open our hearts, our love will be opened like the lake.  The water of love will flow down.  Normally, the lake’s surface is frozen shut in the winter.  In the spring, the water begins to flow and the seeds buried deep inside the earth will germinate and grow into trees.  We can roughly call this event as “good fortune has arrived.”


For the cultivators, what is caring and good fortune? It means the chance for us to express our care has arrived.  This is the time when we open our hearts.  When you do volunteer work, you have to recognize that this is the opportunity for you to open your heart. This openness from above is like our hearts receiving infinity.  The more rain coming down, the better for the germination, the more people we welcome into our hearts, the better.  Therefore the attitude of a volunteer is to deny no one.  We need to cultivate this attitude of being interested in everyone.  We need to take practical actions like writing emails to thank the people that we have met during our volunteering time to let them know that we remember them.  If they gave you their phone numbers, call them up to thank them for coming and ask to see if they have anything they wish to share with you of their experience with the event.  This action shows that we care about them.


The important thing for the Ushers to remember is whomever you have come in contact with, you need to ask them if they can give you their addresses, then you would write a thank-you note to let them know what you thought of them and how much you valued meeting them.  This means that you don’t just come to volunteer then leave, but you should think that “because of their presence, you have the opportunity to serve, and you are very appreciative of that.” This attitude would change people because you have brought them into your heart.


Hence, this time, I suggest that all of us, especially the Ushers, should do this.  We either get their addresses or phone numbers then send them a thank you note.  This action will change how the people who attended the Assembly think because we truly care about them.  We could also call them up.  If you ask: “Dear Thầy, where do I find the money to buy all those thank-you cards?”  I have no idea, but just think, the fact that you would go buy all those cards or write all those emails would show how much you care for and appreciate those who came.


Therefore, I urge you all to really think about this and do all that you can to show that we don’t just do this for fun but we truly bring these people into our hearts and minds.

Thay’s talk to the Volunteers (6)

Dear All,

Today I will talk about an attitude that we must have as volunteers for the Amitabha Dharma Assembly, as well as for any other community services.

When we do well as volunteers, we will be good people.  There is no way that a good volunteer will be a bad person in society or in his/her own family.  To be that good, we need to have a culture or a way of sharing.  Finally, I want to let you know that the spirit of service will help open up our hearts and minds like a lake on top of the mountain.  This lake reflects all things in the sky – the limitless universe appears on this serene surface.  Similarly, our hearts and minds should open to receive everyone.  Each person is like a drop of water from the rain, or a clump of clouds in the sky reflected on the lake’s surface; we would contain them all.

This is the spirit of service: to open up our hearts and minds to bring people in.  The Usher team members have a very good suggestion.  In order for people to know how dedicated the volunteers in the Usher team are, each volunteer will provide his/her attendees with a card that lists his/her name and phone number.  The attendees will then be able to call up the volunteer anytime they have questions.  For example, if they get lost while going to the restroom, misplace their shoes, have questions about the program for the next day, or want to know what I would be doing at 3 o’clock the next day, and they couldn’t find the ushers, they would then only need to pick up the phone and call the number on the cards.  We will give these cards to all the guests so that whenever they have any questions, they can call the numbers listed.

It is a good idea to give the guests our phone numbers before we get theirs.  The guests will look for us on their own.  The interesting thing is that the more lovable you are, the more people will call you.  Therefore, giving out these calling cards is a good way to show our care, but we have to be lovable.  Without this quality, it is very hard for other people to approach us to talk for long.

What is lovability?

The first thing is not to denigrate other people.  Sometimes, there are those who are not very well-dressed, or forgot to wash themselves, and so on; we should never criticize or belittle them.  That is being lovable.  We have to treat everyone like they are Buddhas, or Bodhisattvas.  If we see everyone as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, our hearts and minds will be extremely opened.  We will treat everyone with the utmost care and will see that this volunteering service is a complete success.

Therefore, the issue is how should we see them?  The more we elevate others and think of ourselves as little ants, with nothing to be arrogant about, the better it is for us to serve others.  We will see that this is the greatest joy.

That is the reason why, as soon as we open up our hearts, we need to practice lovability.  To do that, we need to change our points of view and see others as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  Long ago, people used the respect for one’s parents as example for how we should treat others. Nowadays, with the deteriorating relationship between parents and children, it is better to say that we should see others as Buddha and Bodhisattvas to avoid misunderstandings.  We know for certain that anyone who walks in will be a Buddha in the future and he/she will remember us forever.  Therefore, we should treat everyone with utmost care.

The ability to see the potential in other people without getting stuck in their appearances is a great ability.  There are those who like to read others’ countenances to find out if they are rich or poor, good or bad.  This is a very mistaken concept that keeps us in the world of drivel and gossip.

When we are here to serve at this Dharma Assembly, never think that others will steal or ruin our property.  If they steal, they will have to give it back, if not in this lifetime then in the next lifetime.  They are destructive because they lack love.  Why do they lack love? It is because they lack understanding.  Therefore, we should not worry about these issues.  We should only be concerned that we might not have enough love to give, or we might not be lovable enough.  We need to be lovable, and to do that, the first thing is for us to change our points of view.  We should see others as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. If your parents or siblings are lovable people then you should think of other people as your father, mother, or siblings.

To see the attendees as other than just guests is a very important viewpoint.  Depending on the level of our viewpoints, we could change the course of our lives.  Therefore, the Bodhisattvas have an old saying: “Bodhisattvas do not see living beings’ mistakes.” To be a Bodhisattva is never to see living beings’ errors.  They can easily and quickly forgive these mistakes; that is why they are called Bodhisattvas.

Sometimes, difficulties arise because we have preconceived ideas about someone who just comes in: beautiful, good, or ugly, or because the elements – metal, wood, water, fire, and earth – are not in harmony.  For example, if a volunteer who belongs to the metal element should meet a visitor who has the fire element, immediately one would antagonize the other.  The volunteer should wisely diffuse the situation by gently smiling at the antagonizer, not resisting or arguing, just see this situation as a challenge and maintain his/her lovability.  It is a challenge, and only Bodhisattvas would challenge us.  If you think that way, you would not feel angry or any other negative feelings; sometimes because of that, you would resolve any difficulties more quickly.

In other words, where should the change in our points of view be? It is in the way we see all participants in this Amitabha Dharma Assembly as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as those who have countless merits, those who would sooner or later become Buddhas, or as the incarnations of Buddhas.  We begin to change when we think that way.  We change our viewpoints to give loving-kindness, and to be lovable.

This is the first aspect.  I will continue to discuss this lovable aspect in the following talks.


Thank you all for listening.

Thay’s Talk to the Volunteers (7)

Dear volunteers,

Today, I will continue to talk about the volunteering attitude toward our participants. I wish to share these thoughts with those in service, reception, or other volunteering groups.

I’ve shared with you a great concept that we should remember the hexagram Hàm to open our hearts like the surface of a mountain lake that reflects the entire sky. We open our hearts to accept all people without discriminating anyone, without prejudice, so that they will have the opportunity to connect with us.

In the last session, I also mentioned lovability. It means that we change our views to see all people as Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. They are Buddhas or Bodhisattvas to-be.

This session, I will talk about the hexagram Hằng. It is placed next to the hexagram Hàm. They both represent harmony in human relationship. While the hexagrams Càn and Khôn represent harmony of the universe, these hexagrams teach us how to live in harmony with our fellow human beings.

The most important principle in human relationship is having an open mind. The hexagrams Hằng and Hàm represent bonding commitment. What is bonding commitment? It is love. Love is bonding commitment. When we love somebody, we keep a lasting relationship with that person. They make mistakes but we forgive them. They may make mistakes again but we also forgive. And again and again, they will make mistakes but we will also forgive them. We forgive each other mistakes and built our happiness together. Thus, without the hexagram Hằng, the fabric of our family will crumble.

Bonding commitment here does not just express lovability but also love, caring, and on-going forgiving on our part. The word bonding commitment implies the concept of forgiveness. That makes the hexagram Hằng very special.

When we become a volunteer, we meet and talk to a lot of people. A normal conversation can be a simple question on any subjects, but many of them may not express their thoughts clearly. For example, one may like to see the exhibit but does not know where to start. Perhaps, one may be thirsty but does not say anything. They don’t say anything, don’t show any signs, but if we understand their mental states, listen to them, and pay attention to their situations, we will offer them water, and so on. Sometimes, they would like to ask something but can’t express it in words. How can we open up to their questions? This requires a lot of commitment, attention, and love. The extent of our moral conduct as volunteer is not just a few days but it will leave the impression of a lifetime. If we really want to help another, to express our love to another, it will not be just momentary. When we volunteer, we begin to find out if such bonding is permanent or it is just momentary.

This is the attitude that I’ve heard: “Master, he/she keeps on texting while working, keeps on talking at any chances, leaves as early as he/she can, or finds a moment to lax off.” Dear volunteers, we can do that elsewhere but it may be impossible to lax off in our Dharma Assembly. There are a lot of things that need our attention. However, in a deeper sense, the words above mean that we are not fully committed. While working, we become bored and have no interest in it. In another word, if we are mentally passive, doing repetitive works just to kill time, then we can’t be happy with ourselves. But when we can express our love to someone, we acquire an immense mental power from nowhere. We won’t feel bored or tired but fully energized to take more and more works. The day seems shorter so we want stay longer to talk more and share more with our coworkers. We find our joy in not just standing here and there or doing one or two things. No matter where we are, in or out, we accomplished each task with full energy.

Dear volunteers, when we know how to express our love, and truly do things on behalf of others, we have an extremely durable energy. That energy can’t be nurtured by Ginseng tonic or any other means but by our open hearts and true caring.

How can we be caring? – We work and see these fellow human beings as Bodhisattvas and incarnations of Buddhas, as if they are our guests and don’t look down on them. Keep that in mind, then we will be a little kinder.

In different circumstances, we have to think a little deeper. We must think these Bodhisattvas are testing us. They want to see how we open our hearts and minds.

Then we continue to think, what if these participants are, in fact, our parents or our family members? So we start to learn about filial piety. What do we do to make them happy? For example, we are in the Usher Team. When people arrive, we take them from the door, over the stairs, to the main hall. We should be thinking what to do to make them feel our love. To show filial piety, what should we be doing? If this person is our mother, what will we do? If they are our fathers or family members, what will we do for them? What does this person want? When we sense what they want or need, if they were our parents, what would we do? Sometime, we recall that we were not very good to our mothers in the old days when we were living with them. Now we should regard these people as our mothers to repent. This is a transcended form of loving our mothers. Now that we are mature, we would like our mothers to feel our love for them through our services for these people.

This hexagram Hằng refers to a strong and lasting love. We work not in a perfunctory way but wholeheartedly. We not only keep our love for three days but also for the days ahead. Next year, they will come back to see us again. If this thought is resolute in our minds, we will naturally feel what it means to volunteer for three days or ten days in this Amitabha Dharma Assembly. Thus we will see how meaningful these tasks are. Because we do not do the work outside to keep a happy front, but do the work inside us, we are cultivating our virtues, the virtues of resilience and flexibility, the long-lasting love – in a non-superficial way. We work with a committed realization that these people are truly connected to our lives. They are in our karmic webs. Thus we must make them happy as we do for our parents or the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

I like that attitude because it has been mentioned in the Universal Virtue Sutra. Samantabhadra Bodhisattva taught us that seeing people in such a way can give us the ultimate strength and bring us the most fulfilling lives. Each time we volunteer, we will bond with people who seem strangers to us at first, but actually they belong to our karmic webs.

Thank you all for listening.

Thay’s talk to the volunteers (8)

Dear everyone,

I would like to continue my talk to all volunteers. Everything I said before was to share with you how we can serve actively and positively. Today’s talk is about how we change our views.

We normally don’t notice from which angle we tend to view things. It’s very easy for us to see people like this or like that, but we never ask ourselves how we came to this viewpoint. If we talk to a rich person, we see that he’s rich. But from what angle do we look at him to think that he’s rich? Obviously from the financial angle. If we see that he’s very sentimental, then we have seen him from the sentimental angle. In the previous talks I shared with you, I said that we should see people from the view that they are the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or those who will become Buddhas, or reincarnated bodhisattvas in the future. When we can see from that angle, can recognize that karma-cause sowing, we will be Buddhas or bodhisattvas for sure.

Therefore, changing our viewing angles is changing our entire spiritual universe. Sometimes we get mad when we see someone doing something bad. It was because we could not see things from a bodhisattva’s viewing angle. Bodhisattvas do not see mistakes or wrong-doings in sentient beings. They see from an educational viewpoint: how to serve people so they are touched and want to change for the better.

Therefore, changing our viewing angles is changing our whole lives. With wrong views, our lives will always go the wrong way. Some people are blessed with many good things and enjoy them, then gradually thinking they are royalty. However, their views are still not regal, but low in understanding and knowledge.

Thus, our views can help us live and become enlightened. What is self-cultivation? It is constantly elevating our views, so they become higher and wider day after day. Views that cannot change can choke us. Views go hand in hand with physical conditions and internal energy. So if you sit in front of a computer all day, watch movies or the same shows all the time, you will get stuck. For example, if you keep watching movies or film series that keep repeating stories of revenges, stealing or robbing, you will gradually identify with the main characters, enjoy them and accept their views.

One way to change our views is to read books or noble teachings written by the sages, to listen to lectures of those with high levels of consciousness. But we tend to get stuck in the habit of not moving and going beyond our vision levels. That habit goes along with our sitting still, but it does not mean sitting in meditation. It just means that we keep sitting in one place to surf the internet and absorb the facts or information that really do not improve our minds. Movements like bowing meditation exercises help us change our scopes and levels of vision. We keep standing up, kneeling down, touching our heads to the floor, with body crouching like a fetus in a womb. When standing up again, we become the objects of our bows. Thus, bowing meditation is the fastest way to change our outlook and understanding. Our eyes see things above when standing up and below when our heads touch the ground. Hence we change the level of vision from the lowest to the highest. When doing so continuously, the body language will also make us change our views.

When you climb mountains or stand on the second floor balcony looking out, or sit on the floor, you will see how your views change. Try to do all kinds of things to be in touch with the infinite space outside, and to get yourselves out of stagnation. Little things like these can add up to make a big difference. These are essential conditions to help us change. Nobody can sit still all the time and change their views. Our bodies need to move, to walk up and down. Some people only go to the beach and breathe in and out deeply a few times for their minds to open up far and wide. The same thing can happen with mountain climbing.

Changes therefore require shifting the position of our eyes and bodies. Body language affects us. Then we also have to absorb the knowledge and teaching from those much more elevated than us, from the accomplished and highly intellectual people. Looking from the viewpoints of these people, we will begin to change ourselves.

Dear volunteers, when giving services, we change our views from being self-centered to caring for others, for people who are not related to us at all. There lies the spirit of serving. When we really care for total strangers, we have the bodhisattvas’ minds.

Who is a bodhisattva? That’s a person who treats all strangers like family members, or loved ones. We should have the consciousness of a bodhisattva when giving services. We should treat everyone like our family members, and look at them with loving eyes. But don’t just look without doing anything! After looking, we have to really step forward and take their hands to guide them. That means that, after changing our views, we have to change our hand positions. Only when we open our hands can we hold theirs.

All the changes of a person, from an ordinary one to a volunteer, involve view changing and hand holding. Our views must extend far and high; and our hands must be opened to hold others’. All these are very realistic.

In summary, you should do the following things:

  1. Practice bowing meditation exercises: very easy, since you don’t have to go anywhere.
  2. Go up the mountain, go to the beach, and walk regularly. Don’t let the habit of sitting still in one place harm you, preventing you from really seeing things. Practice CK10.
  3. Try to sit on the ground once in a while. You can sit in the woods, on the beach, or in the yard so that when you stand up, you change your views. Walking up the mountain is good too.
  4. Read the sutras, Buddhist teachings, and profound philosophies; contemplate their elevated thoughts.
  5. Look at yourselves as Kwan Yin Bodhisattva; then look out from Kwan Yin’s position.
  6. Finally, open your hands to hold people’s hands, and tie good knots with them.

This is a profound change from inside us, not from the outside. We will begin to see the volunteer path more beautiful and more spacious.

Thank you all so much for listening.


What Is Mandala ?

Mandala is a gathering place where the Buddhas miraculously appear, where we focus our spiritual energy. It is where the spiritual synergy comes from many people, from a group, an organization or a community, with participants all taking part harmoniously, and consequently opening up their minds. As a result, they can feel the exterior lights of the Buddhas, or the inner lights of their own minds.

Mandala is nothing new. In fact, it is the philosophy of our patriarchs from thousands of years ago. Today we practice the meaning of Mandala in a much easier way so everyone can cultivate.

This is a spiritual cultivation that elevates the quality and essence of Buddhism to get rid of superstition, fanaticism, and delusion. This is the practice to help us open our minds. Each one of us in this Bodhi-mandala will feel and understand why it is a very open process and not a delusion, from the invocation, mantra recitation to meditation.

1)  The philosophy of Mandala uses a symbol to represent True Mind. What is the symbol of True Mind? It is the Mani jewel. This Mani jewel is placed at the center of the Mandala. Everyone will concentrate on this Mani Jewel and envision it as one’s own mind, then visualize that it is centered, not in the center of the Mandala, but in one’s own heart and radiating light.

2)  The practice of Mandala is a self-cultivation method, not a superstition. It helps us understand that we have to open the Mani jewels in our minds. Reciting the mantra helps us to open our own innate lights. It is the most profound philosophy because it uses a symbol for True Mind.

3)  This Mandala enables sangha communities to come and practice together, without membership, without charge, without monthly fee, and without taking refuge. All we have to do is to come and practice together, feel inspired, and then go home. We can continue to practice at home if we want. But what kind of influence does this community cultivation practice create? – It creates the synergy of harmonious frequencies from each and every one’s heart. Such great synergy can directly influence everyone’s consciousness in our community, in our groups; even those sitting in the mandala can feel its power. We want to create such great synergy to change everyone’s level of consciousness in the community.

This is the essence of our monthly Mandala practice in this Orange County. I hope that other places like San Jose, Dallas, Houston, and Montreal can set up a small Mandala too, since many cultivators there have learned and participated in this practice before. The number of participants should be roughly 140 to 180, maximum 200. The important thing is to make sure that cultivators can come back monthly to their local mandala for practice. Then they can cultivate more at home.

You all are cordially invited to participate in this Mandala practice.

Master Hằng Trường

How to pray for one’s soul to be free ?

People who need to free their souls are those who already passed away and were related to us. Similar to praying for health and peace, we need to show respect and loving-kindness to all the souls that we pray for.CauSieu_pix

  • When praying for someone’s soul to be free, we should practice cultivation on behalf of that soul. For example, we make vows to chant and bow deeply in Amitabha Repentance, Earth Treasury Repentance, and Kwan Yin Repentance. Or we vow to recite Buddha’s name in many days, many months; or practice cultivation, do good deeds, make offerings, and do volunteer works. All these things are very important to the soul because they express our sincerity and loving-kindness, showing that we really practice on the soul’s behalf.
  • When entering the Amitabha Dharma Assembly, we should write the name of the soul on an ancestral tablet. This tablet represents the body of the soul.
  • Every time we do repentance bowing or chanting, we should place the ancestral tablet next to us or wear it on a string. This is to show our respect to the soul and our awareness that the soul has the capacity to play an active role in practicing with the great assembly and become enlightened.
  • When entering the Mandala assembly, we should also bring the spirit tablets with us. Invite the souls to practice with the great assembly and integrate with the lights of the Buddhas. Always remind them: “Everyone of us has an innate Buddha nature, with bright light in our mind. It is this uncreated, eternal light that is our true home (the soul), that is the true and indestructible body of the soul.”
  • When the great assembly recites the Mantra for Rebirth in the Pure Land, we should think: “Dear soul, please become this uncreated, eternal, and boundless light!”
  • When the spirit tablet is brought to the Light of the Self-Nature circle, it is also the time when the soul will integrate with the lights of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and become free and liberated. Therefore we should always concentrate and pray for the soul to practice diligently with the great assembly.

Since we have the good condition and means to practice, we should always dedicate our merits and share our blessings, happiness, joy, and loving-kindness with all those in our karmic web, living or dead. We should always think: “I practice for the sake of everyone in our entire karmic web.”  Think especially of the babies that have died before they were born, those who died suddenly, or those who could not control themselves in their final moments.

  • Regarding the world of hungry ghosts, not only are they deprived of food to sustain their lives, they also lack the light to nurture their character. Those lights are warmth, empathy, loving-kindness, forgiveness, tenderness, patience, caring, and letting go of anger and resentment. Therefore when we pray for their souls to be free, we should also send them the above characters, which represent the lights.