Delivered at the Cathedral of the Pines
West Rindge, New Hampshire
July 4, 1976
On May 14th, the National Day of Prayer this year, I was invited to offer a prayer in New York City. The presentation consisted of three parts: an introduction and background to the prayer; the prayer itself; and the conclusion in which I introduced a verse taught by the Buddha. After the meeting, a young woman asked me why I had chosen that particular verse by Buddha as my conclusion. I responded briefly, but I did not have time to offer her a full explanation. Today I wish to do so.
Let me first read my prayer to you:
May we Americans, in this Bicentennial year, reaffirm the determination of our ancestors; raise our Mayflower flag to sail across the vast ocean of hatred; discrimination, selfishness; and arrive on the other shore of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
May we Americans, in this Bicentennial year, reaffirm our determination to extend our love of brotherhood to all people on earth, and may we be guided by the collective wisdom of all world religions to save ourselves from self-destruction.
Today our greatest fear is not of nature. Our greatest fear is of ourselves.
The concluding verse by the Buddha was from the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedika Sutra). I wish to read this verse in Chinese:
一 切 有 為 法
如 夢 幻 泡 影
如 露 亦 如 電
應 作 如 是 觀
The English translation is as follows:
All the world’s phenomena and ideas
Are unreal, like a dream,
Like magic, and like a reflected image.
All the world’s phenomena and ideas
Are impermanent, like a water bubble,
Like dew and lightning.
Thus should one observe and understand
All the world’s phenomena and ideas.
To answer the young woman’s questions about why I chose this verse, I said: “Because this verse is our Mayflower.” She nodded with an expression indicating she wished to say something more, but then other people spoke and the opportunity was lost. I sincerely hope that my explanation today will somehow reach her so that she may have my response.
Before I explain why this verse is our Mayflower, I would also like to read the introduction to my prayer:
We human beings can send ourselves to the moon, but we still cannot eliminate the horrors of a concentration camp or the need of prisons.
We spend billions and billions of dollars to eliminate the disease that kill us, but we pay little attention to routing out the motivations that cause us to kill each other.
Each time I think of this, I feel very sad. For thousands of years we human beings have been unable to liberate ourselves from fear! Why? Because we cannot rid ourselves of hatred, discrimination, selfishness, and desire. But why can we not eliminate these evils that almost everyone knows are destructive? The answer is that we human beings have such a great desire to possess. The desire for possession creates attachment. Basically, attachment is due to the concepts of self and possession as when we say “This is mine.” This concept of self is strengthened by the belief that both ‘I’ and the world are real; not only real but also permanent, although we know that is wishful thinking. Surely we realize that no one can live forever and that no one carries money, power, or beauty with him or her at death.
Therefore, to recognize that all phenomena and ideas of the world are unreal like a dream, and impermanent like lightning, is to cause desire and the concept of ego to diminish. When the ego is subdued, hatred, discrimination, selfishness, and desire are also diminished. The ocean is about to be crossed and the horizon is in sight. Thus, this verse of Buddha is our Mayflower to carry us across the vast ocean of hatred, discrimination, selfishness, and desire.
Now may I ask you a few questions? When in 1620 the English were told that there was a beautiful land on the other shore where people could worship freely, and that a boat named the Mayflower was about to sail, did everyone rush to the boat? The answer is no. Millions were suspicious, and only 102 people sailed on the Mayflower.
My second question is: Did the Mayflower arrive in America immediately after she sailed from Plymouth, England? The answer is again no. The Mayflower sailed on September 5th. Gale winds, waves, and a struggle of life and death on the limitless water took place for sixty-six days and nights before the ship reached the new continent on November 10th.
My last question is: What did our ancestors do when the Mayflower arrived on this new land? Did they remain on the boat? No. Naturally, they left the ship and went ashore.
All three questions and answers equally apply to the Mayflower that I am discussing today.
First, of approximately four billion human beings on earth, only very few know about this verse of Buddha, which I call our Mayflower. And even fewer are actually willing to go aboard the ship and sail.
Second, those who do board the ship should not deceive themselves that this ocean of evil can be crossed quickly. It will take a long time and be a hard struggle.
Third, and to this I particularly wish to call your attention, when one realizes that all phenomena and ideas are impermanent and unreal, and when hatred, discrimination, selfishness, and desire are subdued, instinctive wisdom will automatically reveal loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Loving-kindness is happiness for all, compassion is relieving the sufferings of others, joy is happiness at the accomplishments and good fortunes of others, and equanimity, which results from nonattachment, is the calmness of mind in the face of both favorable and unfavorable conditions.
When these realizations are achieved, the ideas of reality, unreality, permanence, and impermanence become meaningless and should be abandoned, just as our ancestors left the Mayflower when it arrived at the new continent.
This service will soon be over. It is impermanent. Tomorrow your recollection of this occasion will be nothing more than a dream. It is unreal. But I hope my message had boarded you onto your own Mayflower. Please carry this message to your family, your friends, and the whole nation. Let us sincerely hope that in the tricentennial year, your children and your children’s children will meet here again in a society where loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity prevail.
Thank you very much.