Spiritual Practice for Personal and Community Peace
by Rev. Heng Sure - http://paramita.typepad.com


Forty years ago, my father took me to the gun show at the Toledo Ohio Civic Armory. I was ten years old, and I worshipped strength. We parked the family station wagon, walked inside and saw under the armory roof all the killing tools of human history. There was a full set of knights armor from the days of King Arthur, there were lances, there were Viking axes, Apache bows and arrows, Samurai swords, Gurkha lances, Ninja daggers, dueling pistols, hunting knives, an M16 rifle, land mines, bazookas, mortars, artillery cannons, and a decommissioned atomic bomb. That collection of killing technology was very exciting. A typical American youth of the sixties, I was overexposed to commercially driven bloodshed on television. From programs with names like Gunsmoke and Combat to napalm bombs on the evening news, I had become desensitized to violence. The average American child under sixteen has been a witness to 100,000 acts of media depicted violence many of them lethal.

Standing on the aisle at the Gun Show, I lifted a Samurai sword. I felt the weight and the intent of so much sharp steel. I felt a raw, glandular reaction in my guts. I felt my eyes narrowing, reflected in the shiny blade of that sword, and then I raised my eyes and looked around. I watched the muscles and the face of the man beside me as he lifted a Civil War muzzle-loading musket and looked down the gun sight at my father's back. My hands clutched my Samurai sword grip, the killing tool in my hand, as my eyes turned that man into an enemy in my thought. It was only later after reflection that an insight explained my experience at the gun show. I had judged the angle of my swing of that sword to cut off the man's head right at his neck as he aimed at my father. In the turning of a thought I had a war come and go in my heart. It took me an afternoon and a morning to realize what I had done, to see this elemental cycle at work.

Once upon a time, human weapons used to be simple. It was my fist to your jaw, your foot to my groin. Clubs and axes made of wood then surpassed this weapon and we had the first turning of the elemental weapons cycle. A club extended our reach and could be more devastating. That was true until weapons of wood became tipped with bone or stone or metal. When the next elemental weapons cycle turned, it was in fact metal weapons cycle that could be shot from a distance. They completely wiped out the wooden weapons. The warriors who used weapons of steel or wood tipped with steel fell to those who used weapons of fire. Weapons of fire, of course, were guns. And with a gun you could stand outside the range of a bow and arrow or a sword and wipe out the enemy, destroy his body and his ability to kill. Metal cuts wood in the Chinese scheme of the five elemental cycles. Fire transforms wood and melts metal. I envisioned that "cute" atomic bomb that was there at the gun show. It had a name. It was Bully Pup or something like that. And I realized that there was one more turning of the elemental weapons cycle and that was a weapon of water. Now what would a weapon of water be. A hydrogen bomb. That is an ultimate weapon in terms of its power to destroy. So again, wood digs earth, metal chops wood, fire melts metal, water quells fire.

But my mind turned one more step, as I remembered my reaction to seeing my father in danger metaphorically at the gun show. There is another element at work and that is the weapon of the mind. And we are back to earth again, not just the physical world but also the world of thoughts, weapon of the mind, the ultimate weapon. Those five cycles in the Chinese scheme mutually destroy and they also mutually give birth. So, the very same mind can be used toward peace. If we refuse to allow thoughts of hatred, thoughts of otherness, thoughts of enmity, then we give birth to a world in harmony.

I thought about human hands receiving all those weapons of war over the centuries and millennia. Think about those hands--they are mostly men's hands. Few women's hands take weapons of war onto the battlefield, though that is changing bit by bit. Mostly they are the hands of men. Their skin is pink, black, brown, yellow, red and shades in between as they grasp the handle, the stocks, the trigger, and push the button of countless weapons. But there are some interesting statistics involved here. Of all the hands that pick up a weapon, half of them drop it and are killed. At each successive evolutionary stage of technology of wars, it takes human hands to realize the destruction inherent in the weapon, but more importantly, it takes human thoughts to activate the hands and realize the destruction latent in the weapon. Power to kill in that piece of sharpened steel in my hands arose from a thought of hatred and war in my own mind. That is the ultimate source of war and peace. The first step in the process was the idea of an enemy in my thoughts. I witnessed in my own face in that shining Samurai sword my minds ability to turn a human being into an enemy in the movement of a thought. It was shocking to realize how a thought of hatred can set off a chain of destruction that leads to the killing of a life. Throughout history only one spark in the mind was needed to raise an army of hands that picked up the weapons. I lost all interest in the gun show when I tried to imagine my hand becoming lifeless in the case I get killed by the enemy.. I didn't want to go back to the gun show the next year. I wasn't intrigued anymore by weapons. I was alarmed by their violence. I was committed to understand in my mind how I could create the deadly difference between myself and the other person so easily. And I wanted to find a way to restrain my mind.

Now I know more about thoughts. Thoughts are invisible: they can be deadly but they can also be turned into a blessing by a governor. We need a controller of those killing thoughts. Weapons are less dangerous than harmful thoughts in our mind. War is not possible if our minds are unarmed. Fourteen years after that gun show I attended a Buddhist retreat in a monastery. For the very first time I saw an image of Quan Yin Bodhisattva, the bodhisattva of great compassion. I was told that Quan Yin means the Bodhisattva, the awakened being who hears the cries of the world. Quan Yin appears in many forms, often feminine, sometime remarkably like the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus, a wonderful synergy. The one I was looking at in the Monastery was a thousand-handed, thousand-eyed Quan Yin Bodhisattva. Each had a thousand ears to hear the sounds of suffering. Each hand and eye is there to help a sentient being who cries or who calls on Quan Yin's name. After being initially puzzled about why so many hands, I remembered my vision of the gun show fourteen years earlier and how thoughts of hatred can turn people into targets. The thoughts of otherness makes enemies of being who essentially belong to one human family. I understood that Quan Yin Bodhisattva's thousand hands came from her/his vow to help all beings. I was touched by the thought of a way to use hands that do not harm.

Quan Yin's compassion is based on the element of water. Water purifies all blood. The element of fire transforms all souls, the element of earth makes up our bodies, and air fills our lungs and the universe. So, this single substance that we share with all beings unites all bodies. We all have one yearning toward well-being, peace and happiness that unites all hearts. That I think is the inspiration that moved Quan Yin to great kindness and which alleviated all suffering. Great compassion gives rise to joy. The choice is really ours now.***

Rev. Heng Sure - is the Director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, and a member of the Board of Directors of AHIMSA.

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News From True Cultivators — Three Steps and a Bow -- Heng Sure & Heng Ch'au.

The letters of Heng Sure and Heng Ch'au... Three steps and a bow. That's how they walked it. Two monks on a pilgrimage of peace that took them through a series of wide-ranging encounters and extraordinary experiences -- within and without. These letters and photos are a record of their amazing journey.

Two American Buddhist monks on a journey of a lifetime, from downtown Los Angeles to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talamage, California. A journey of more than 800 miles that took two years and nine months to complete. They bowed in peace, and for peace. Touching their foreheads to the ground, opening their hearts with one wish for the world. Peace. For everyone, everyday, everywhere.