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Blog » Sweet Dews Of Dharma Talks » 2014 » Open Your Heart, Change Your Life

Open Your Heart, Change Your Life2015-01-31


Spoken by Dharma Master Heng Yi on Novemenber, 2014
English Translation by Lotus Lee

We all know that today is Thanksgiving, so I would like to start out with some words of gratitude. After the second session this morning, when I walked past the kitchen, I saw that it was full of people busily preparing food for lunch. This sense of sadness came over me, because in this world, there are a lot of people who have no food to eat; some people have food but it is never enough; some people have enough food, but the quality of their food is not very good. However, relying on the support of the Three Jewels, everyone who came here to participate in the Dharma Assembly today can enjoy especially delicious food. I am very thankful to the Three Jewels for giving me and the assembly such bountiful food.

The second thing I would like to give thanks for is the opportunity for me to come to Gold Sage Monastery and tie Dharma affinities with everyone here. My work requires spending long periods of time in front of the computer, and as anyone who does the same thing can attest to, it is not a pleasant experience. Due to this Dharma Assembly, I was able to break away from sitting in front of the computer for a while. Therefore, I am very grateful for this opportunity to come here and cultivate with everybody.

Third, I would like to give thanks to all of the living beings who have helped me accomplish my goals in life. In the past, I often complained about my life and felt that many things in the world did not go my way. However, as I grew older and looked back, I saw that all important events or major accomplishments had not occurred under the smoothest or most perfect circumstances. In contrast, it is the obstacles and difficulties in our lives that truly make life remarkable. Therefore, only when we are able to readily accept everything that has happened to us with a lenient and generous heart will our minds become peaceful and our lives change for the better.

Now I would like to talk a little bit about turkeys, because every Thanksgiving, turkeys have to go through a lot, except for that one turkey picked by the president, which receives immunity for the rest of its life and can die of old age.

Two or three years ago, a Dharma Master told us something about turkeys. She said, “Turkeys are actually very intelligent and sensitive. They can fly very high and travel at high speeds; most of us do not know this.” She then went on to tell us an incident that happened in the back mountain at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. A flock of wild turkeys live in the back mountain area at CTTB, and if anyone gets close to them, they run away immediately. This episode involved aforementioned flock of wild turkeys and another animal, a donkey named Bodhi. Bodhi was one of the donkeys that the Venerable Master set free twenty or thirty years ago. I will talk more about this donkey after I finish with the turkeys.

One time, someone discovered that this donkey had been attacked by a mountain lion. Turkeys and donkeys are different kinds of animals, but they saw that the turkeys had completely surrounded the donkey, protecting her from harm. At the time, the donkey was getting old and could not walk very well, so the turkeys surrounded her to prevent the mountain lion from attacking. I don’t know how they did this, but we can see that turkeys are very kind animals capable of caring about their companions.

Most people probably know why Americans eat turkeys on Thanksgiving. Some of you might not, so I will talk about this story first. In the fifteenth century, in 1620, a group of English Puritans detached themselves from the English church due to differing views and left their country to move to another place where they could implement their beliefs and principles. They sailed for eighty-five days before finally making landfall in the beautiful land of North America in November. It was getting cold, and since they had spent two to three months on the ocean, they had depleted most of their resources and had very little food. They also did not have warm clothing for the winter. At the time, North America was inhabited by Native Americans, who are described in history as very kind people. They welcomed the Puritans who had traveled here from across the ocean and had an entirely different culture. The Native Americans gave the Puritans clothes and food, and taught them how to plant and to survive. After the Puritans settled down, to repay the kindness of the Native Americans, they invited them to have a feast with them where turkey was the main course. This turned into a tradition, and afterwards, although Native Americans disappeared from the picture, they continued eating turkeys every year.

Next I would like to talk about the two donkeys I mentioned earlier. Since this incident happened a long time ago and many people talk about it, there are multiple versions of the story, all of which are slightly different. The version I know is that this donkey was a worker in a monastery in its past life. This may explain why it was set free in CTTB. There tens of thousands of turkey in the United States. Some of them live at CTTB, but most turkeys end up on the dinner table. I think there is some reason behind it.

In 1982, there was an overpopulation of donkeys in Mendocino County, and they would go around trampling and damaging crops. In order to control their numbers, the Californian government decided to shoot them from air. When the Venerable Master heard about this, he made some arrangements and asked Dharma Master Lai to buy some of these donkeys. Dharma Master Lai contacted the officials, and two donkeys were shipped to CTTB to be set free.

A couple years ago, I heard Dharma Master Lai talk about what had occurred. He said that when he spoke to the officials, he kept reminding them, “We want two donkeys with the same gender. ” However, when the donkeys arrived, one was male and the other was female. I am not sure if they exchanged one of them later, but in the end, two donkeys arrived at CTTB, and I am certain one of them was female, and it later became known as Bodhi. I am not sure about the other one; it died a long time ago.

When the donkeys arrived at CTTB, they had to go through the ceremony for taking refuge. After unloading them from the truck, a couple of men had to take them to the Buddha Hall. They told the donkeys, “The refuge ceremony is starting, and you have to come with us.” However no matter how they pulled, the donkeys were very stubborn and refused to move. This went on until the ceremony was about to start. Someone went to tell the Venerable Master, “We can’t get the donkeys to come in; they’re too stubborn and won’t even budge an inch.” The Venerable Master arrived and whispered in the donkeys’ ears, “Let’s go!” The donkeys began to move and ended up running to the Buddha Hall so quickly that people previously trying to pull them were pulled along instead.

The donkeys were set free in the grassy fields in CTTB’s back mountain, which became their home. At first, they were young and did not like people. As soon as they saw humans, they would run away. One of them passed away a long time ago, and as the remaining one gradually got older, some people would bring carrots and other food to feed it.

A few years before Bodhi passed away, she began to have some health problems. For the past 30 years, she had lived freely in the back mountain by herself. One time, someone went to the back mountain and discovered her collapsed on the ground. It turned out that she had accidentally eaten some wire while she was grazing, which had damaged her gums and prevented her from eating anything. After a few days of not eating, she collapsed.

Since she lived in a grassy field and only walked on grassland, her hooves were never filed by the ground, just as a dog that lives indoors will have very long nails if you do not trim them. Ever since she was set free in CTTB, Bodhi’s hooves had probably been filed only a couple of times. Technically, they ought to be filed every year. After she was found collapsed on the ground, they discovered that not only were her teeth in bad shape, her hooves were so long that they were curved. As a result, the place connecting her legs and her hooves was also curved, preventing her from walking properly. Since she walked very slowly, people were able to get close to her. At the time, a westerner at CTTB was tasked with taking care of Bodhi, and a professional horse trainer was also helping.

After Bodhi became ill, a lot of people started to care about her situation. Actually, the people living in CTTB love animals in general, but because she would run whenever people came near, we were never able to get too close. Since she was no longer able to run, it was easy to get near her. I went to see her quite a few times and brought food for her to eat. Someone bought a brush so we could brush her coat. When she saw us, she would bray happily.

The last time I saw Bodhi was in October 2011, about three years ago. CTTB was having Guan Yin Session, and some westerners had come to participate. Since they were not used to staying in the Buddha Hall for a long time, another Dharma Master and I took them to the back mountain to walk around and visit the donkey. Looking at her, one of the laymen said that she probably didn’t have much time left. When we gave her water, she did not seem to have the energy to drink it, so we were all very sad and recited Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s name for her. People in CTTB had also noticed that her condition was deteriorating, and it seemed that she might pass away any moment.

Since the weather was getting colder, the layperson in charge of taking care of her built a small stable for Bodhi behind the girls’ high school because it was warmer in the front, and it would be more convenient for people to take care of her. The stable was built, but they did not move her into the stable in time, because one day before evening recitation, around 5 or 6 PM, someone discovered that she had passed away. It was around November, and the weather was turning cold.

The news spread very fast and everyone heard about it not long after. Some laypeople and monastics brought blankets and towels to the back mountain to recite the Buddhas name for her. The towels and blankets were to keep themselves warm, as the temperature dropped rapidly as soon as the sun went down. They stood around her and recited the Buddha’s name for eight hours until past midnight, just as if they were sending off a friend. The donation department wrote a plaque for her, and someone even wrote an obituary. We could say that Bodhi was sent off with the highest honors.

I suppose that these two donkeys were so famous because the Venerable Master talked about their past lives. One version says that in their past lives, they were workers in a monastery and were responsible for cooking, sweeping, cutting wood, and doing other such miscellaneous jobs. However, they often complained about their work and harbored a lot of resentment towards the monastery. In addition, they lacked faith in the Buddhadharma, did not believe in the sutras, and claimed that there was no cause and effect. They also frequently took things belonging to the monastery for personal use, and due to their actions and offenses, which the merit they had accrued could not make up for, in the present life they were reborn in the animal realm.

If we think about it, a lot of people in the world die without dignity. Some even die without clothes to cover them, have their corpses scattered in pieces, die without anyone knowing, or die under unfavorable circumstances, let alone having anyone recite the Buddha’s name for them. On the other hand, ever since these donkeys were set free in CTTB, we could say that they made no contributions to the monastery at all. They spent their days in the back mountain, which all belonged to them. Because we didn’t have them do any work, they just ate, drank, and ran to their hearts’ content. Perhaps due to the affinities they had planted in the past by working in the monastery, they had been picked out of so many donkeys that were going to be killed. That is why we say that cause and effect is really inconceivable.

Something you may not have thought about is that when this donkey was still young and strong, she was capable of protecting herself by running quickly and avoiding attack from other animals, but what I don’t understand is that after she got old, she was never hurt even though there are all kinds of animals living in the back mountain. She would have been an easy target for them. Even more amazing was the fact that a flock of wild turkeys protected her from harm. Therefore, in the monastery, even the animals receive the protection of the Dharma protectors. There are a lot of animal stories in CTTB, and today I only shared two of them. When I am in CTTB, I am very respectful to all animals I encounter. I regard them as my fellow cultivators. It is possible that they committed some offenses in their past lives, so in this life, they still live in the monastery, but in a different form.

To conclude, I would like to return to the subject of gratitude. We should be thankful to all living beings, whether we meet them in favorable or unfavorable situations, because they help us grow. I feel that when we are able to open our hearts to others, our affinities with all living beings will change for the better as well. Changing our actions can also change our lives. In the tape, we were listening to the Venerable Master talk about this laywoman named Wang Lifang. The Venerable Master was helping her to the best of his efforts, and if she was willing to change herself, the negative karma she had accumulated throughout her past lives could have been eradicated. However, in her present life, she continued to create negative karma and deceived her teachers. The Venerable Master made a very important statement: “After she [Wang Lifang] had two abortions in her present life, all of the negative karma she had created in her past lives came back for revenge.” We should not overlook this statement, because even though a person may have karmic obstacles from a previous life, the retribution only occurs if the right conditions are met. On the other hand, if our actions are righteous, our affinities with living beings will change, and our karmic retributions will naturally change as well.