I remember the morning of September 11, 2001, very clearly. I was in my room in Oakland meditating, and then my phone rang, and it was my friend Jenny, who was crying. And she said, "Turn on the TV and watch the news." And I said, "Why?" And so I looked at what was coming on on the TV for a few minutes, and saw the footage of the destruction, and I began to cry. And so I went back and called Jenny up, and we just cried together on the phone and prayed together.
Honestly, when we are witness to senseless hatred or destruction of life, there's really nothing to say. Our practice is simply to be with it, to bear witness and to hold it. I remember the next day at seminary, we were supposed to have chapel, and honestly they were saying to many things during chapel. Honestly I felt like we should just have sat together in silence. We did not need to talk about anything, just to sit together in silence.
Individually most of us do not have the strength to hold that kind of sorrow on our own. And we don't need to hold that kind of sorrow on our own. This is the jewel of sangha, community. And this is the meaning of the Pure Land. Mahayana Buddhism developed out of original Buddhism as a response to a few centuries of Buddhism that sometimes tended to get a little bit other-worldly or out of touch with the real problems of real human beings and began to sometimes get a little theoretical or focus just on the monastics. And if you are not a monk or a nun, well, you did not have a chance. This was the response from the heart of Buddhism about 500 years later after the beginning of Buddhism to remember that the very heart of Buddhism, the very heart of true spirituality, is always enlightenment for the sake of others, liberation on the path of others, true, deep happiness so that we can share with all beings, and not just sitting in a cave or a mountain or in a hut by yourself and just wanting to be enlightened just for yourself.
So in the development of Mahayana Buddhism, there was the metaphor of the Pure Land, where this person in the mythological story—Dharmakara was his name, which means storehouse, treasury of the dharma, which is very interesting because the symbols in their—in Buddhism, the storehouse is usually referring to the collective consciousness of humanity. So really this person Dharmakara is a symbol of the collective consciousness deep within each human being becoming enlightened, giving rise to this pure light called bodhicitta, which literally translated is the mind of love. But it refers to the attitude of wanting to be enlightened to help all beings. So from deep within our collective human consciousness, there is this seed thought, idea within each of us that wants to be enlightened for others, and so Dharmakara eventually becomes enlightened in the story and becomes Amitabha, Infinite Light.
And again, it is a story pointing to the reality of each one of us. Because when we each awaken to the bodhicitta, to the metta, to the lovingkindness, to the desire to be of service to all beings, to practice for our happiness and for the happiness of all, that in itself is enlightenment. That is the infinite light of love and life. And in the story of Amitabha Buddha, he or she or they or we create the Pure Land all around us. The original Buddhist word for this is Buddha-kshetra, which means field of enlightenment, an energy field. So each one of us as we awaken to that true purpose of our lives, we radiate this field of energy around us. And it is not just a theory. It is real, because people can feel your love and your life and your words, your thoughts, your actions create a reality around you, which creates a place, a field of energy, a relationship, a job, an action that affects others positively.
So we are being invited to become citizens of the Pure Land, Sukhavati. Sukhavati means having happiness and sharing it with others. So we are being called to become citizens of the Pure Land. And the neat thing about this citizenship is that you can be anywhere, in any country, and still be a citizen, you know? Just like some people have passports. They are still citizens of one country even though they are in another country, right? So we can all be citizens of Sukhavati, and Amitabha can be our president. And maybe Thich Nhat Hanh is our governor. Maybe I am one of our mayors or something.
We are all being called to be citizens of Sukhavati, Pure Land, wherever we are, because where we are, that is where the Pure Land is, because the Pure Land is not just a physical place. It is a field of energy, and we all carry that within us. So we are invited to really dedicate ourselves to be ambassadors on our planet for the true beautiful country of Sukhavati, inviting all beings to join and become citizens, wherever they are, whatever country, nationality, religion, ethnicity, language, ability. Whatever. It is all equally having free access to citizenship in the Pure Land, Sukhavati.
And Amitabha is there to help us with all the different Buddhas and bodhisattvas around us, including those sitting right next to us, all there supporting us. And we can become mayors or governors in this spiritual country of the Pure Land of Sukhavati. And the more we practice and the more we allow the light to radiate, Sukhavati and Amitabha become more physically real. Maybe it starts out as a mythological story, but it becomes literally physically real through us as we literally allow the light of our heart to shine and affect others, a real effect. Even if you can't see the light, people can feel the light.
And this center, for instance, is a manifestation of the Pure Land Sukhavati entering into our planet. This very building is becoming an outpost of Sukhavati, of the country of true happiness. And your own home where you practice starts to become an expression of Sukhavati. And your relationships and your workplace and your music, your art, your hobbies, all can be infused with the light of Sukhavati, the light of Amitabha, the light of bodhicitta, metta, lovingkindness.
See? We have many words for it, but they're pointing to the same realm. So whenever you feel a little bit wearisome in your work in this world, and you see violence or you feel the oppressive, constrictive energy around you, remember that you belong to a different kingdom. Your kingdom is in this world, though not of it, as one spiritual Buddha bodhisattva once said, one Jewish rabbi many years ago. So let your light shine.
You know, I was staying at an Orthodox monastery because the Buddhist monastery was all booked up for like a whole month, not even a single night that I could stay there. So I said, "Well, I will just look for another monastery," and one of my friends said that there is a Russian orthodox monastery on the beautiful island of Vashon, just off the coast of Seattle, and wow, it was so beautiful there. So peaceful. And so I stayed there for a few days and just join them in their morning and evening services, which were very long and very, very powerful, too. I could really feel the light shining through their ancient practice that they have been practicing for centuries, the same way. There is a beautiful power in the ancient ways in any tradition, and you can feel it.
And one day, I was picking blackberries and huckleberries with another person staying there at the monastery. One of the monks told us to go get some and they were going to make a pie, a berry pie. So I felt like one of the stories you read in the books, like going along the trail and picking the berries. It was just so beautiful. I was so happy. But toward the end of my stay, I asked some questions of the monks, and it saddened me to hear their response. What they were saying was basically the Orthodox Church is the only true church, and the Catholics are not the true church, and certainly not the Protestants, and certainly not any other religion. And hopefully some of them might get to heaven, but only those in the true Orthodox Church are guaranteed to go to heaven. Everyone else is who knows? You're gambling on it.
So was very, very saddening, and as I begin to hear their ideas about how Satan is working deception in all other faiths and denominations and traditions, I actually started feeling a constrictive energy, and it actually stayed with me for a couple days. I started to be suspicious everywhere I was looking, like oh gosh, you know? That's just not right. That is not right, you know? But because of mindfulness, I was aware, oh wow. This is interesting.
But this is the thing, and this is really one of the only ways we are going to have world peace, is mindfulness of these two things. And they're contradictory, but we must stay mindful of both. One is that there is a beautiful, beautiful light that all the ancient practices are carrying forth in their vessels even to the present generation, and that is beautiful. It is worthy of receiving, the light from our ancestral practitioners. And the vessel in which this beautiful pure light comes to us, sometimes these vessels are very constrictive, full of constricted ideas, which can infect us with suspicion and separation and superiority complex.
So we have to be very careful of that. But what we don't want to do is just because there is beautiful light and a tradition, just completely surrender to everything else but they say. That would be dangerous, and that would not be very smart. That would be blind faith. But the opposite extreme would be just to completely reject an entire tradition or an entire church or an entire movement or practice just because of constriction around the beautiful light. You see? And that is what we are dealing with today with the pastor who is trying to burn the Koran, and the Pakistanis who are burning his effigy in retaliation. And you know, the funny thing is his church membership is 50. I mean, really. He is really not that big of a deal. But he is making himself a big deal.
That is how powerful the ego is. The ego is not that big of a deal, but it likes to make itself that big of a deal. But really, it is not. And because many of the people looking at that are coming from a place of the ego, too, then it just is like wildfire. It starts that ego within us that wants to fight back. But you know, honestly, the best way to respond to that is just to smile and look away and not give it so much power and to keep our practice strong. Instead of reacting, we just respond by being the infinite light of peace and love and light.
And instead of being distracted by the antics of the ego, we just keep on committing to our practice because we are all ambassadors, and there are two things to keep in mind in our work, because you have to be careful. Because there are two truths here. One is that 9/11 really was a wake-up call for many of us, and there are lots of big and small wake-up calls recently in the world and in our personal lives. I know that I have been receiving in small ones increasingly over the last few years, one of which I've shared before with some of you. I used to see, and I still do sometimes now—I see 11:11 all the time. I used to see that constantly, and now I just see it once in a while, and then sometimes a lot. I just see 11:11 on the time on the clock or on a CD player or whatever, just randomly. And I found out that this beautiful symbolic date of another wake-up call for humanity, December 21, 2012—12-21-12—basically it is a re-reversal of our priorities back to the original intention of the divine, where the oneness comes first before the twoness. We got it backwards. It is going to go back to the original.
But anyway, the exact time of the winter solstice of 2012 on December 21 is at 11:11 universal time. Isn't that interesting? So I don't want to make a big deal about 2012, because honestly, history will continue on. It is just a symbolic wake-up call that there are really serious things for us to do and to think about and to change in our world, and get ready, my soul. I am diving in. You see? So that is the truth, and we need to wake up. If we have been very lazy in our spiritual practice, we need to wake up because it is not just for our sake that we need to wake up. It is for the sake of everyone on the planet. I mean, there is so much suffering. We can't afford not to wake up. That is one truth.
But the other truth is also important, which is don't be completely overwhelmed by the surface suffering of others and of yourself. Go deeper to that place where it is just beingness, and that everything is actually unfolding, even including the suffering, as it should be. That truth is also important because otherwise we get too overwhelmed. We get too busy, and we get too evangelical in our fervor to save the world, you see? We have to step back and remember it is all already being taken care of by the one and that we are just voluntarily having a part in that work. It is not our work. It is the work, and we are just giving our permission to allow that work to work through us in the world.
So we have to remember that, too, because I see these two extremes of the radical activist, which is important. We need to do something, and then those who are like, "Eh, the world is an illusion. Forget about it. I'm just going to go back to my mountain." It's like it doesn't matter. But I think the truth is the middle path that the Buddha taught, which is both are true, and both need to be in balance. So our practice is to always be coming back to balance, as you were saying. Balance. And that takes practice, doesn't it, to always come back to the place of balance? Because it is a dance, and there is an ebb and flow, and it is not easy always. But it is definitely worth it. So keep those two perspectives in balance, both the perspective of pure being and enlightened doing.
And be mindful of your feelings and of the intuition and of the messages from your body. They are important. Watch out for the signs. Look for them. Be open to them. Don't turn a blind eye to the signs that are there for you. Just like my experience of the monastery, I was open to feeling my intuition. I really felt beautiful, pure light coming through all the icons and the candles and the chanting at the monastery, and it was overwhelmingly beautiful. I was open to that, and I was also aware of the constrictive energy of fear and separation at the same time. By being mindful, I was able to not be infected by that constrictive negative fear energy and still be able to receive fully receive the rich blessings of the light flowing from their tradition.
And that is what we can all do as we walk in the world. We do not need to allow the fundamentalism in Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism or Judaism or Islam or any other religion to infect us. We can completely enjoy the light that is in all of those traditions while at the same time not being affected by the narrowness. That is a key to world peace, to truly and deeply be here and now, to know how to completely receive and also not receive—or transform may be a better word. To completely receive the light and transform all that is not the light. And that is definitely the practice we're doing. So, thank you very much for your practice of deep listening.