I am addressing you, members of the church, some with hierarchy some without hierarchy, I choose to address your basic and not your frills. Because when we get caught in the frills that we fall into the trap of distinction which separates rather than unite.
I am addressing your Highness and your Holiness also from your basic quality, same like all of us….children of Mother Earth. By this mere consciousness of addressing the basic, we are brought into this one unity of humankind free from race, creed, caste, class, and gender distinction and bias.
Now we have been equalized and we can have a conversation, hope that it is an enjoyable one.
Allow me to humbly introduce myself very briefly. My personal back ground is academic, and my monastic back ground is Theravada Buddhist, though I prefer to be only Buddhist. Among the Theravada Buddhists they often considered me a heretic, an out caste, and a persistent, head strong, western influenced feminist, now turned monastic but I consider myself a humble Buddhist who tries to follow the spirit of Buddhism.
I reside in a monastery for women that is not yet recognized neither by Government nor the Church, but I am quite comfortable with that non-status. While I have nothing to gain, also I have nothing to lose.
I do not feel particularly honored but rather very happy to be here among brothers and sisters, children of the same Mother Earth to share our ideas our thoughts with the hope to redress the wound of the Mother Earth as much as her children.
In Buddhism there are various mental techniques (called Samatha and Vipassana) to build up and to keep our mind peaceful until it becomes part of us. Once peace becomes our nature then we can become active as we can trust our mental formation that it will lead our thought, speech and action only peacefully.
To be a peaceful person does not mean one only sits and smiles like a Laughing Buddha. Rather one is happily active and hence get things moving in a positive way.
To work around a person who is peacefully active, one gains that positive energy. At the end of the day even though the work may take up lots of energy and we may be tiring but yet we feel blessed with such positive energy around.
Peacefully active person has great energy as it ties down neither to his or her personal interest nor concern but rather for the benefit of greater society. The more energy is put in, the greater is the result and it feeds on to external circle. When we work in this fashion even mathematics can go wrong. Let me give you an example: when we did mathematics in school, in one hour a person can plough one acre, ten people in the same amount of time should cover 10 acres, this is mathematic answer, but if we work together with this positive energy, we may end up 15 acres. This has been proved to be true.
All of us can be peacefully active in our own circle for the betterment of humankind.
Buddhist philosophy focuses strongly on the interconnectedness of things, beings in the world. Each individual incident is a result of something else, and in turn itself becomes yet a cause of another effect. When we begin a good act for the benefit of a greater society itself becomes a good cause, etc.
When we realize the nature of this cyclical cause and effect we should commit ourselves to only good act, together we already create a snowball of good cause. It needs only our decision to start this good act, it may start with just a simple encouraging smile. Do not wait to do a great project, but a small simple ones, before we know it, it works wonder.
In order for us to be engaged, socially engaged, we have to be convinced in the necessity to rise above our own need and greed. Al Gore, in his presentation on the Inconvenient Truth also urges us to rise above ourselves, to rise above history so that we can write a greater history together once more for the future of humanity.
Let us not only meditate
In my tradition many Buddhists tend to understand that to practice one should be silently sitting and meditating with closed eyes. In fact that practice is meant for the beginners who are so distracted with the world outside. The few minutes or seconds of peace and total calmness one experiences during meditation is to allow one to understand that peace and calmness is possible. This mental calmness and peace which is experience during the meditation is to be lengthened and to be preserved during the day while we deal with the actual world outside. That is the true purpose of meditation. If we can be calm and peaceful only when we sit and close our eyes, then it cannot really help us. Because in the real life we have to deal with people, with situation with open eyes, not closed eyes.
To practice is to constantly look inward with a serious self examination for self development. Buddhism never teaches us to be hiding in the cave all the time. The Buddha himself was a good example, after his enlightenment he spent the rest of 45 remaining years of his life traveling, preaching, responding to and correcting the world.
The higher form of meditation which is called the insight meditation allows one to see things as they are. That is a true understanding of self and the world around us. With this understanding and practice, a true practitioner can and should be engaged in solving social ills with compassionate heart and positive attitude.
At inter-religious gathering lets not talk about our unique characteristic, because of its uniqueness, we have no other religion to share the interest with us.
More often than not, at the international conferences we tend to talk about the uniqueness of our religion or our philosophy. At a gathering like this if I focus on the uniqueness of Buddhism already I exclude majority of the audience. We should aim to start with something all of us share, and are of our concerns.
Human suffering is a basic human experience that cut across caste, gender, race, even language. Let us share our thoughts and techniques how each one of us overcome this suffering. How as a community of international body and inter -religious body like this gathering can we address the social ills together. How can we uplift the exploitation of women together. If you are not women you might feel that you are the others, and that it is not your concern. Then I would like to use the language that is more inclusive, how can we uplift our mothers, sisters and daughters together.
Let’s talk about a shared responsibility within our own religion…ordination of women.
The beauty of world religion, any religion, is that it should be inclusive. We come together to change the world for the better. We need to look at the space we provide for women, the other half of the world population. Nature allows them to be mothers, and religion should allow them to play the leading role within religion so that they can care for the larger half of the world population.
In my own tradition…Theravada tradition, eventhough the Buddha established ordination of women but in some countries, like Thailand, the lineage of ordination for women never came. So it is the responsibility of our brother monks to see to the establishment of this lineage which was given by the Buddha in a way of expressing true respect to the Buddha.
Let’s not talk about our right and what we should benefit, but responsibility, work, commitment and what we can give.
Do not forget what when the world comes to an end (apparently at the speed that we are destroying the Mother Earth, its coming much sooner than expected), there is no Christians, no Buddhists, no Muslims we are all equal victims.
The Buddha sent out the first batch of 60 monks with instruction “be beneficial to yourself and others.” That instruction becomes the keyword for Engaged Buddhists.
Forgive me for starting my Buddhist context, but we can always forget the context and you will find that the message can be applicable to all of us.
The Buddha first started out his spiritual journey alone, after having discovered the Truth, or the message to free himself (and the world) from human bondage, then he decided to share his discovery to the world.
The very first batch of disciples consisted of only 5 men, and quickly it developed to 60 men, that was the first batch of monks, his disciples, all of them enlightened. He then sent them out to preach, to make known to the world how to free oneself from the bondage of suffering. His instruction was very significant, “go each in your separate route, and be beneficial to yourself and to others.”
Engaged Buddhism is not about sitting for peaceful enlightenment alone, and definitely it is not for the extreme social welfare for others only . It is an art to balance between these two extremes. It is the purification of the mind that provides us with compassion for others, and through the engagement in helping others it is a constant reflection of our inner development.
We do not help others for the glorification for giving up ourselves totally so that we become heroes. The true giving of ourselves is giving the clinging to ourselves. In helping others it should come out of the pure intention to free others from suffering.
A bird can fly with two wings, one is compassion and one is wisdom. In a certain situation, not to help with intention is with a deeper compassion than to help.
Lets talk about peace in the world and peace within us. Let us stop pointing fingers outward but begin the change here in our heart.
We are not able to see our own faces directly, what we can see directly is other faces, and our own faces that we see is always the reflection of our faces. Therefore we tend to find fault in others and not ourselves. We need to develop the inner eyes to see ourselves, to see our mistakes, our short comes and only then we can make some improvement.
We have been talking about peace all the while and yet we cannot achieve peace. We have been approaching it from a wrong end. Peace is never something to talk about, it is something to be felt. It needs direct experience. What we can do together is only to find way to bring about an opportunity in space and time so that we can experience peace together.
It has first to begin right here in our heart, in each one of us heart. We have to go back in our tradition, and even borrow from others, if we do not have it. So that we can experience this peace. Peace in our heart. What are the ingredients? How do you get it? How do you nurture it? Let us share.
Let’s love ourselves truly and realize that others also love themselves. Let us understand the value of our life and others’ lives.
The very first moral code or precept in Buddhism starts with “I observe not to kill living things” if we truly love oneself and realize that others also love themselves in the same way. That love and respect for life permeates our ethical principle, there is no need to forbid one from killing.
To understand further that one life is interconnected with the rest of the world will allow us to be more cautious in our behavior as it effects ourselves directly and effects the rest of the world indirectly.
The basic Buddhist five precepts for laypeople is a common ethical code of behavior for other religions as well. It is interesting that the ethical code of behavior in all major religions of the world are very similar. If you are familiar with the ten Commandments in the old testament you will find that the Buddhist basic five precepts are in the same spirit.
But we do not have God concept, therefore it is not a command from God, but we take it upon ourselves. It goes like this: We take upon ourselves not to kill, not to steal, not to indulge in sexual misconduct, not to tell lie, not to take intoxicant. Not to tell lie in the Jewish context would be not to stand for false witness as that could put a person to death.
How to make the religious code binding for the younger generation?
No, you do not have to observe any precept, but do love yourself sincerely.
Telling lie is an art of a genius, once we start telling lie to one person, we have to have a very good memory to tell the same story to this person and not others, otherwise our stories get mixed up. Unless we are thorough in our memorization, it is really foolish to tell lie.
Even when you are the best driver in town, yet you cannot avoid accident even when you are 100% sober, therefore taking intoxicant is only the path of the fool. Having understood the five precepts as the way you guard your life, then it is more appealing.
Of course for us, the monastics, we have also a different set of rules to follow , not to be rigid but to purify and to decorate our life. I shall not go into details at this space and time. But just to leave the lose end open for further discussion among monastics or clergy across different religions and cultures. I always feel very comfortable among the Muslims as they have a good understanding about fasting in Ramadan month, we also have to fast after midday. This is just to give you an example.
Let us not only start hugging each other but also really see the need of others over our own need.
Let us be sensitive to other cultures, let us open our heart and study about others.
Violence is an expression of anger at its height, and often this comes purely out of different way of looking at things, different mental frame, with different set of value. When we do not understand the others, we tend to judge others according to our own way of thinking, our own standard of doing, believing, our own set of values. Unless we provide common space where people from different frame of mind, believe, values can come together and share the different view they have of looking at the same thing. We are then opening up an entirely new world for each other. The fact that we allow the existence of other set of ideas, beliefs, to be expressed, to be shared is a new start, a new beginning of living together harmoniously.
Do not take it for granted, do not go by the value which we are accustomed to, but always be aware that there may be yet another way or other ways of looking at the same thing.
The fact that this conference is conducted in English is already setting a limitation to many others values, cultures, etc. But to be international we always have to sacrifice, but keep in mind of that limitation.
Let us seek to learn from our neighbor
I visited Myanmar in 2006, the first thing I did after landing was to go directly to the Schwedagon pagoda, the most important pagoda in Rangoon and in Myanmar, I went there to ask for forgiveness for all the previous bad feelings (and even actions) I might have towards the Burmese. I felt quite peaceful after that, not so much peaceful towards the Burmese, but peaceful within myself.
With in the family, we also find that often the doors have been closed. For example with our mothers we cannot discuss certain topics because she has a set concrete answers to it already. If we can open these locked doors in ourselves, in our loved ones, then it is the first step to open up to learn from our neighbors.
You know the most difficult thing is to deal with the dearest and the nearest. But after returning from Monterrey, you can use it as an excuse to start opening this locked door.
Let us be true to the spirit of our own spiritual root and not holding on to empty forms, empty rituals and mere sweet comfortable words.
Let us care for the world by keeping our world within healthy and in tact.