Let’s Embrace All Sentient Beings!

Speaker: Venerable Jue Ji

Director of Xiang Yun Temple, Austin, Texas, U.S.A

I. Introduction

Auspicious greetings to my dear friends in the Dharma! This is Jue Ji speaking from Austin, Texas, the United States.

When I say auspicious greetings, I feel that I want to raise my voice and reach out my hand to you all. Reach out my hand to you? Oh, I’d better not to do so, even if we were seeing each other face to face now. Because I need to keep social distance, wear a face mask and put on gloves when I go out or when people come to me. Nowadays this has become a norm of human life all over the world. The cause of this is COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. There has never been such a sudden impact on human life worldwide in our human history.

II. Be a Bodhisattva in Midst of a Crisis

How are we going to reach out to people under this special pandemic condition? I think the Buddhist teaching of the Four Means of Embracing can help us embrace one another and give compassion and love to one another. The basic Buddhist definition of the Four Means of Embracing is: embracing all sentient beings with four practices, that is, generositykind wordsaltruism, and empathy.

These four practices are regarded as bodhisattva practices. Whether you are a Buddhist or non-Buddhist, these four practices are both skillful and expedient means to help people rid of fear and worries of being tested COVID-19 positive. And our fear and worries are not limited to COVID-19. The recent protests on the streets in big cities in the States have added further burdens on our life, physically and mentally. We’ve seen vandals among the protesters. People are seeking for justice and equal human rights. Whether you are the protesters or you are observers of the protests, you feel the impulse, the heat, the anger, AND the fear. People do not know what will be the result of their action; still they think that this the way to get what they want. So, they join the protesters and walk on the street. 

A bodhisattva, instead, will practice the Four Means of Embracing as skillful and expedient means to deliver the suffered from “not knowing” to “knowing” according to one’s aptitude and disposition. That is, a bodhisattva will help the suffered “wake up” to see the cause of their suffering and then be able to go beyond their suffering.

In one of the Mahayana Buddhist Sutras, the Avatamsaka Sutra, it says that “If one is able to accomplish the Four Means of Embracing, one can bring all beings boundless benefits.” The Avatamsaka Sutra emphasizes that we are ONE in this world. Big or small, tall or short, fat, or thin, good or bad, Asians, Europeans, Africans, Americans, Australians…. You name it! We are ONE! Since we are one, therefore, if we can practice and perfect the Four Means of Embracing, we can bring all beings boundless benefits.

The “Black Lives Matter” protests were held in the big cities, include the city of Austin where I live, like a wildfire boosted up by a gust of racist wind. Signs of “I cannot breathe!” are visible everywhere in social media, walls, posters, songs, and so on. “I cannot breathe” is a slogan associated with the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. The phrase originates from the last words of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who was killed in 2014 after being put in a choked-hold by New York City Police. A number of other African-American individuals killed by police have said the same phrase while being killed by law enforcement. On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, was accused of killing George Floyd, by kneeling on the back of his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. A video of the incident showed Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” multiple times. The phrase, “I cannot breathe” is now used in worldwide protest against police brutality in the United States and against the lack of police accountability. Protesters are seeking for justice, for equal human rights. They claim for social justice and protest against racism.

The United States is usually described as a “melting pot”, indicating that it’s a nation of a combination of many different ethnic background peoples. But it is also called as a “salad bowl”, which means that different ethnic peoples are not fully integrated one another, as a melting pot should have stood for. While the African-Americans are seeking for justice and human rights for their ethnic community, this “Black Lives Matter” movement reveals a common human desire for equal right in living in this world. Venerable Master Hsing Yun regards the earth as a “Global Village”, asserts that we are all global villagers. In this global village, we should all live peacefully together, cooperating hand-in-hand with respect and tolerance.

III. Be a Global Villager

In 2003, Venerable Master Hsing said that it has been 50 years since he arrived in Taiwan from mainland China in 1949. Two thirds of his life has been spent in Taiwan, but the local Taiwanese people did not regard him as a Taiwanese. When he returned to mainland China, the local mainland Chinese people regard him as a Buddhist monk coming from Taiwan. He is not regarded by either local people! So he comforts himself by claiming he is a global villager. As long as the earth doesn’t desert him, he wants to be a global villager. Likewise, I suggest that all ethnic peoples in the States regard themselves as global villagers. It is not just Black Lives Matter. All Lives Matter!

“I cannot breathe” because people are suffocated by social injustice. The heat of anger and the fear of the uncertainty of the future are permeating in the air, breathed in-and-out by people who protest on the street, as well as those who observe the protest at home. We all need to breathe the air freely now. Breath is important to all colors of human life, to all forms of life. Living in this global village, we need to recognize the importance of co-existence and respect in order to live harmoniously together on earth.

A protest is to express disapproval of something. We have empathy with our African-American friends. When facing similar situations, our feelings are mutual, disregard the skin color of our ethnic background. And that is why I’m presenting here the practice of the Four Means of Embracing as a solution to the heat of anger and fear of an uncertain future. Here are the four practices: first, generosity—sharing of the truth; second, kind words—confidence buildup; third, autruism—reciprocal support; and fourth, empathy—all lives matter. I’ll explain each practice in details now. 

IV. Four Means of Embracing: (i) Generosity

First, let me share with you a story about the truth of life.

In the Sutra of Forty-Two Sections, the Buddha asked his disciples, “How long is one’s life?” One of the monks replied, “A few years.” The next one answered, “A few days!” Another one said, “Less than one day!” Another responded, “Between meals!” Finally, the Buddha said, “Life lasts for the duration of one breath.”

This conversation between the Buddha and his monastic disciples points out that life is impermanent. A breath is very short, therefore life is very precious. Without breath, we cannot survive. If people say, “I cannot breathe”, then these people are dying. We should save their lives by letting people understand the preciousness of life. At the same time, we should share with people the fact that life is very impermanent—if there’s no breath, there’s no life. Through breath, we are inter-related to one another, like the internet network. Nowadays, if one cannot go online for a short time period, one feels isolated from the world, be it a real or a virtual one. In this global village, Venerable Master Hsing Yun claims that the global villagers should cultivate respect and tolerance towards one another. All skin colors of the global villagers are beautiful; all lives are precious. We cannot ignore the living right of any one by taking away their breaths. We should embrace all beings by sharing this truth about life. All lives matter. All need to breathe. Sharing the truth about life is a form of giving, a very generous giving.

V. Four Means of Embracing: (ii) Kind Words

Second, let me tell you a story of one who builds up her confidence because of praise.

Daisy felt inferior to others in our community. She had no comparison with others in Buddhist studies, in Buddhist practices, in social status, in financial income, and so on. She volunteered herself at the temple quietly, not expecting any recognition of her work. Every now and then, Daisy would offer the vegetables she grows at her home vege garden to the temple. Recently I started to praise her produce and told her that “You have a green thumb!” Not only had I said that to her, many others from our community also praise her produce being well grown and delicious after cooking. Our praises inspire her to grow vegetables with more time and efforts. She would bring the best harvest of her vege garden to the temple for sangha offering. Her face is beamed with bright light. Gradually she has built up confidence and enjoys a sense of achievement.

Praise helps people to find value in their lives and therefore build up confidence in them. We should speak kind words to one another. Venerable Master Hsing Yun says “kind words are like sunshine, spreading warmth all over the places; kind words are like fragrance of flowers, bringing joy to all beings.” He assures that when each individual in the community speaks kind words to one another, this community will be full of love. If people, disregarding their skin color, speak kind words to one another, our society would be one of harmony. The tension between protesters and policemen would be released accordingly. Life is very precious, and All Lives Matter. Knowing this, we should support one another to ensure a win-win situation, so that all people can live happily together on earth.

VI. Four Means of Embracing: (iii) Altruism

Third, let me share with you a story about reciprocal support and justice.

Yingchun has been in prison for years due to involving in a human trafficking issue. She came from China, speaking only few English words. She was referred to me through a local Buddhist chaplain who cannot speak Chinese. Yingchun didn’t have good educational background. Before she was put in jail, she had been a fraud victim several times. Ignorance was the main cause of her misfortune. Through letters, I taught her to recite Amitabha Buddha’s name to repent the crime that she has committed.

She writes letters to me like writing a diary. It seems that writing a letter to someone who can read Chinese in this foreign land becomes the best comfort for her suffering soul. Gradually she learns the Buddha’s teaching and understands the law of karma. Yingchun feels that she needs to do something for repentance. So she spares her limited allowance to buy postage stamps and donates to the temple. This is the most unique donation that I have ever received in my temple. Each stamp is of very little value, 55 cents only. She mails 20-30 stamps each time. For me, this is a very precious donation. An inmate uses her limited resources to make the best donation! Comparing hers, my contribution is very little. I only read her letters and send her Buddhist booklets. She reads them and confesses her wrongdoings in the past. My letters and the Buddhist booklets have helped her calm down her mind and reduce her suffering in jail. I simply show her my care for her spiritual life and encourage her to think positively. Yingchun nevertheless uses all her resources and efforts to thank this special affinity in getting to know the precious teaching of the Buddha. She admits that her karmic retribution is fair and justified, and she can accept her prison sentence with calmness. She knows that her fate is not controlled by others; justice is in the hand of herself. 

The case of Yingchun illustrates that we all need support from one another. The protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement are seeking for justice by walking on the street, some by vandalizing the public utilities, some even with physical conflicts. Violence against violence would beget violence. Of course, we may apply justice through lawmakers. But we also need to realize that the karma is our best justice. We should try our best to help one another improve the quality of our lives. By practicing altruism, which creating the environment of reciprocal support in our community, the karma will reward us with justice and fairness in life. 

VII. Four Means of Embracing: (iv) Empathy

Fourth, let me tell you a heroic lifesaving journey for a little lizard.

Every Journey in this World is a Path to Happiness,” written by Venerable Master Hsing Yun as his best wishes in the Year of the Mouse. This year starts with the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide. Now I read Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s blessing for this year, I am surprised and also impressed by Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s words. It is his wisdom that indicates whatever we behave, if we do it right, then happiness will be ahead of us. And it is his compassion that portraits us a Path to Happiness, that we shouldn’t lose our hope under this pandemic condition. Among all the visible forms of life, not only human beings, but also big animals and tiny insects, are precious. Let me share with you what I witnessed few weeks ago.

An old friend, David, came to the temple to help clean the temple front yard. It was after a thunder storm a day before. An empty flower pot was filled with some rain water. David pointed at the pot and showed me a “little friend” crawling on the inner wall of the flower pot, struggling for its fragile life. I knelt down and looked closer into the flower pot. The poor tiny lizard, about 2-inch long, was holding on to the inner wall, staring at me, and pleading for life saving. 

David looked at the lizard and asked me, “If we don’t help it come out, it’ll eventually drop down and drowned. Do you want me to help it come out of the pot?” 

“Sure!” I replied immediately. 

David kicked the pot, which felt on the ground instantly. Water flew out. The lizard quickly slipped out of the pot and swiftly ran out of my sight. I wondered, why did David ask me for permission to save the life the lizard? He could have kicked off the pot without asking me! Perhaps he wanted me to know that though a tiny life, its instinct to survive is no less than human beings. This is really a good lesson for me. It allows me to think deeper about life, that even the tiny lizard’s life matters. What if I said “no” to David? Suddenly I realized that the lizard’s life is closely related to mine. How much more true if we relate this to all beings? The lizard didn’t say “thank you” to David, nor to me. The life we just saved swiftly disappeared from our sight! But David and I both felt relief for the lizard. Empathy is that which David and I had in mind when we saved the lizard from drowning. Put ourselves in the shoes of this lizard, none of us would want to be drowned. David, an old man in his 80’s, looked very happy. His face was beaming with a glow of compassion, like Guanyin Bodhisattva. 

All lives are precious under all conditions, be it under the current global pandemic outbreak, or in the protest for Black Lives Matter. Every journey in the world is a Path to Happiness. This includes the journey of all lives. How to make this life journey a Path to Happiness? It takes our wisdom and compassion to embrace all.

VIII. Four Means of Embracing and the Three Acts of Goodness

We found that the Four Means of Embracing is surprisingly relevant to Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s promoting the Three Acts of Goodness. 
First, generosity is based on the understanding of Buddha Dharma, the truth. Our giving should not be deviated from the Truth. 
Second, kind words are to give confidence to others. So we need to speak good words to others. 
Third, altruism is to give reciprocal support to one another. To help others is not different from helping ourselves. Therefore, we would try out best to do good deeds for others. 

Fourth, empathy is to put ourselves in others’ shoes. We don’t want to see others suffer. Out of compassion, we think good thoughts, wishing the best for others. 

Venerable Master Hsing Yun encourages everyone to do good deeds, speak good words, and think good thoughts. The Three Acts of Goodness can perfectly fit the bodhisattva practice of the Four Means of Embracing—generosity, kind words, altruism, and empathy.

As a bodhisattva practitioner, we care for all lives. All Lives Matter!

Thank you for listening to my Dharma talk.