Boddhisattva In A Pony Tail
--Neil Patel
7 minute read
Feb 17, 2017

[Below is a lightly edited transcript of Rev. Heng Sure's talk on the community night at the Gandhi Ashram. When Meghna asked me about a highlight of the Gandhi 3.0 retreat, I spontaneously told her, "Three words.  Reverend Heng Sure." On his bowing pilgrimage, on every bow, he recited from the Avatamsaka Sutra, "For all the harmful things I've done, with my body, speech, and mind; from beginningless greed, anger, and stupidity; through lifetimes without number, to this very day; I now repent and I vow, to change entirely." Not part ways, not as much as I can. Entirely. I offer my bows in respect.]

I would like to invite all of you to put your feet on the ground, and bring your attention down to your heart, find the earth element of Mother India under your feet, locate the fire element that keeps us warm, the water element here in the river. Identify that which we are borrowing temporarily to make up our life. Find the heart center and recognize the air element through which our voices travel. Every human who has lived, now and in the past, has filled their lungs with this air. Gandhi-ji walked this earth, fire, water and air on this very land, but it’s up to us to carry forward that flow.

Now, find your heart center. And think who am I? It’s not just one thing. For the women and girls, we are daughters, we are sisters, we have been children, some of us are mothers. If we are men, we are children, we are sons of fathers, some are brothers, some are teammates, others are parents of children. Friends, teachers, students of teachers, teachers of students. As we wake up to all these different identities, all different cells in our hearts, it’s important to hold these threads of the fabric of humanity, with love in our hearts.

In that heart space, invite all generation of ancestors who stand behind us. Both men and women, we are carrying forward, the aspirations of generations of our ancestors. We bring it forward to this moment. What are we going to do with that promise, with that challenge, with that responsibility?

Today, I have joined Environmental Sanitation Institute. I take Jayesh-bhai as my older brother, even though I am older than him. He is my older brother, my teacher. What he teaches me is the importance of cleaning up. So how am I going do that? Nipun mentioned that I did a bowing pilgrimage, during my formative years as a monk. I bowed to the ground for eight hours a day -- taking a break every hour to write a journal for twenty minutes, taking a lunch break and then continuing to bow. I traveled 1 mile a day from South Los Angeles through Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, all the way through to City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Every time I bowed, I said the same thing. And I would like to share that with you tonight.

Every time I bowed I recited a verse from the Avatamsaka Sutra . The verse belongs to Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of great practices who is said to be a universal being. I encountered the Sutra in Chinese, but it translates to this: “For all the harmful things I've done, with my body, speech and mind, from beginningless greed, anger and stupidity, through lifetimes without number, to this very day, I now repent and I vow to change entirely.”

Environment Sanitation. Sweeping clean. So that's the process that came to me, to practice. Of all the beauties of the Gandhi ashram, and of all the stories of inspiration, the one that stood out is this image of Gandhi with a broom – sweeping clean. I am carrying that forward.

When we do this, miraculous things happen and yet they seem ordinary. Sometimes you need to bow for many miles to see that ordinary miracle.

During our bowing pilgrimage, I was bowing in the town of San Luis Obispo. It was a Sunday, and I had been frustrated that I wasn't enlightened yet.  Greedy for enlightenment. So I was bowing along. Sunday mornings are usually very quiet -- fewer cars, people in churches.

We are bowing along and around the corner comes five pickup trucks -- squealing around, parking across us. One, two, three, four, five. Five pickup trucks. These fellows get out of the pickup trucks and come forward and stand in a line. One has a chain, another has a baseball bat that he’s swinging around, another one has got a tire iron. They have been looking at each other and they are pumping each other up: “Hey, what you doing kissing the ground?” I am thinking to myself, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have been so greedy, maybe I shouldn’t been so frustrated in my mind.” Sweeping my mind as best I can, we continue bowing. We are getting closer and these guys are looking to turn the monks into hamburger! Not vegetarian guaranteed. 

Right at that point, where something is going to break, I call to the divine. “Namo, greatly awakened one who hears the sounds of the world.” And right at that point, this car, pulls up and out pops this young woman. She is blonde, with a pony tail, and has got flowers in her hand. She come running over, and she goes, “Bobby? Bobby, what are you doing here? Hey Sammy, nice to see you. When we gonna go swimming? Hey, look here, a flower for you. Hey Jim, how are you? Good to see you.” And these guys are going, “Oh, darn it. Sally, stop it. You’re spoiling the mood.” Sally says, “No, no. These guys, you know what they’re doing, right? They are bowing for world peace. We could use a little more peace in the world. Hey, come on, I will buy you all a drink. Let’s go.” And mumbling and grumbling the guys tell us, “Hrrrmrm, okay, yeah, let’s go guys. Let’s get out of her.” And off they went. I said, “Namo Guan Yin Boddhisattva.” Sometimes Bodhisattvas appear in a pony tail, with flowers in her hand, with Jimmy and Bobby and Sammy by her side. So sweep clean. It’s never too late, to start sweeping.

If the spirit strikes you, I would invite you to find something that you could clean up. We can take up the spirit of this Samantabhadra Boddhisattva and the spirit of Jayesh-bhai and his father Ishwar-Kaka, to sweep clean. It starts in the smallest places but makes the biggest difference. Sometimes it can save your life, and always your spirit. It’s the verse from the Avatamsaka (“Flower Garland”) Sutra:

For all the harmful things I've done, with my body, speech and mind, from beginningless greed, anger and stupidity, through lifetimes without number, to this very day, I now repent and I vow to change entirely. [Video of Song]

Bowing has the power to humble. The principle goes that the self is an illusory self, it’s a constructed self, it’s not permanent, it’s not real. We build it, and we change it. And through our repentance, we can unpack, deconstruct, and let go of that self. Then, our acts of service light up bright virtue, drawing near the people, and holding onto the highest goodness. We sweep clean.

Let’s conclude with a Dedication of Merit. In many traditions, you pay-forward your merits to repair the world and leave it better then you found it. In that same place in our hearts, where we earlier invited all our ancestors – present as well as future -- make a wish to share all of the goodness that comes from our celebration tonight at the Gandhi Ashram. Take all that goodness and with a single thought send it out. You turn your heart into a a cell phone tower, to send that signal out in all the directions. Make a wish and say, “I dedicate all of the punya, all merit, all goodness to ...” whatever your wish might be. Our minds touch in space, so use that strength where minds touch and send out the goodness. It’s really yours to give. This is how the world is repaired.

May every living being,
Our minds as one and radiant with light,
Share the fruits of peace
With hearts of goodness, luminous and bright.

If people hear and see,
How hands and hearts can find in giving, unity,
May their minds awake,
To Great Compassion, wisdom and to joy.

May kindness find reward,
May all who sorrow leave their grief and pain;
May this boundless light,
Break the darkness of their endless night.

Because our hearts are one,
This world of pain turns into Paradise,
May all become compassionate and wise,
May all become compassionate and wise.


Posted by Neil Patel on Feb 17, 2017

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