Avalokiteshvara, Turkey Swamp, Marc & Me
November 9, 2010
Turkey Swamp was a large park with huge lake around 3 hours bicycle ride from my childhood home in New Jersey. If you went by car it’s around 45 mins or more. One of my relatives took me there once and I loved it as a kid. I asked my childhood friend Marc Reed to bicycle there with me. He was very agreeable. He is a very outdoor type of person, strong, energetic and game to try any physical activity. So off Marc and I went…it was a real LONG bike ride and physically gruelling 2-3 hours…by when your a kid, it’s ok…I could never tell my parents I went there. They would be horrified I went so far by bicycle…and even more horrified I went there to pray…LOL.
Once we got there we’d walk around together and I would ask Marc to do his thing and I would want to meditate alone.. Marc is very accommodating and a very nice guy and good joker too. He would always oblige (Thank you very much Marc…thank you for your friendship). He would keep himself busy at another spot of the Park where there were more people and I would be left in a secluded area. He would come back to get me after a few hours when I was done. When I asked him what he was doing while waiting for me, he would say fishing to my horror…then he would say he’s just joking…hehehe… Marc thought I was weird to meditate there and I never told Marc what I was meditating on…but Marc being a good sport was really ok…
I would sit under the shade of the tree at the edge of the lake. I would pretend/visualize I was a hermit or yogi. I would in my mind’s eye stare out into the brilliant waters that was actually in front of me… From the centre of the lake in my imaginations, a Four Armed Avalokiteshvara (Lokeshvara) would be under the water sitting on a lotus calmly. I would chant Om Mani Peme Hung and ‘call’ to Him. He would hear me and very slowly rise out of the water. It was a gentle rising. As He rose, the waters would slowly cascade off of Him and he would be dry. His holy face would be facing down with four arms as He rose… His left hand held a mala (from our side), right hand a lotus and two hands folded at his heart with a wishfulfilling jewel. His majestic black hair would cascade down his shoulders and the other half tied up on his head bejewelled. He would wear princely silken clothes covering partially the upper portion of His body and a silk skirt the bottom. He would be sitting in full lotus posture on top of a gentle large brilliant pink lotus. His body was white like yoghurt/snow and shiny and brilliant. Millions of light rays would shine out from His holy body suffusing the area and me.. I would do this visualization and hold it. I would recite His mantra furiously and pray to be in communion with Him. To be blessed and one with Him. As I did this, I would visualize His face very very slowly looking up and then facing me. His face was like a polished mirror with the sun reflecting from it….it was so bright that I could hardly look into it. When he faced me from the middle of the lake and I saw His holy face directly gentle, calm and perfect, I would be filled with happiness, tingles all over my body, joy, forgiveness and I had no problems. I would ‘feel’ lights from His face shining directly towards me and filling my body and I would tingle all over. I would sometimes be in tears as I ‘communed’ with the Arya Lokeshvara, the Mahasattva of Great Compassion in this way… I wanted to be like Him, full of love, compassion, forgiveness, courage and acceptance. As the light shone from His holy visage to me, I would chant His mantra and hold this visualization as long as I can. I was around 11-12 years old at the time I think…
It was rare to get Dharma that time, but I was lucky. I made up the whole Lokeshvara meditation and did it for years over and over…and I did it again and again at Turkey Swamp. My sole reason of going to Turkey Swamp was to engage in meditation on Lokeshvara. I also did the same meditation at home very often. When I read this book DOORWAY TO LIBERATION by Geshe Wangyal (borrowed this book from Anila Thupten Chonyid down the street), he described the qualities of compassion of Avalokitesvara…when I read this I could not stop crying. I FELT AT THE MOMENT, the true purpose of dharma was to develop unaffected true compassion in the face of good and harm. I reflected how the kids at school use to tease me about being Asian and my mother’s abuse, I would practice forgiveness and compassion towards them.. I use to walk around the school ‘absorbing’ the many racial slanders directed at me by being calm and focusing on Lokeshvara. I did sometimes lose it and retort back of course. I wasn’t holy…hehehe…At the same time, when my mother slapped me continuously very hard with her rings on when in her foul moods, I would silently chant Om Mani Peme Hung…close my eyes and not get angry at her. She asked me once when she was slapping me what I was saying under my breath. She said I was ‘cursing’ her to get sick or something…I said no, I was reciting Om Mani Peme Hung for her…she got even angrier..Next time I didn’t tell her what I was chanting when she did what she did… The thought of compassion really touched me very deeply.
In 1979, when I was 14, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited New Jersey for the first time ever. He gave teachings on the 8 VERSES OF THOUGHT TRANSFORMATION and the Om Mani Peme Hung mantra transmission I was blown away. The discourse was in Washington, New Jersey at a Kalmuk Dharma Centre by Geshe Wangyal and I ATTENDED WITH ALL THE OTHER KALMUKS!!!!! It was three hours of blissful discourse. I cried throughout the whole teaching having problems wiping my snots away… We were given the 8 Verses to recite daily on paper and I recited it daily. I had painted a 4-armed Avalokitesvara with my prayers written carefully at the back weeks prior. After the teachings, we had a short private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and I offered this painting to Him DIRECTLY and He read the back!!!! I wrote on the back of the painting to become just like Him and to achieve great compassion and that in every life I can be near Him. He gave me a blessed red string and I wore that around my neck until it was worn out. But I was even more determined to practice this teaching. Even now, the 8 Verses are my favorite..it is something I encourage in Kechara now with my students.
Lokeshvara appealed to me as a kid because He always prayed to be born among the worse, barabaric people, worse conditions, and worse regions so he can benefit the beings of that region. No one else would have the courage to wish to be born in unpleasant and ugly circumstances with many difficult to tame people. He felt compassion for the lowest of the low and wished to be with them to benefit them… But Lokeshvara would alway pray that way to be within the harshest of environments. I was moved by that when I read it. I cried for days thinking of Lokeshvara’s courage to pray for this. I wished to be just like Him. It took me a short time to develop such courage to pray to be born among the most difficult people and circumstances so I can bring them the dharma. But I worked my mind into it and was finally able to do it in my meditations. I was actually able to really genuinely pray to always take rebirth in horrible situations with the most difficult of people and by living with them, gain their trust and bring them the dharma. I was very pleased with myself as a kid I remember because I did that. As a child, kindness and courage always appealed to me very deeply… Every time I meditated and prayed to Lokeshvara I would cry and cry uncontrollably. I was afraid the prayers would come true and at the same time, I know I ‘needed’ to do that. I know that if I wanted to be truly spiritual I must wish the worst for myself and the best for others. I resolved to develop great compassion and a forgiving heart at home and in Turkey Swamp while reciting Om Mani Peme Hung …I really did make prayers to Avalokitesvara like that. I would hide in my bedroom daily and do His mantra. I knew other mantras but I liked Lokeshvara’s and Manjushri’s mantra the best…I memorized Tara’s 21 various mantras I found in a book because I felt when I grew older I would be in distant lands being requested to help people. So if I knew various mantras, I can alleviate the various problems people would have and seek my help for. Of course it was all in my fantasy mind but I still worked hard at studying the Dharma from books I borrowed from Anila Thupten Chonyid (she lived down the street) and memorizing mantras. I ‘knew’ I would need them later. I knew I would not be in the USA when I grew up. I didn’t know where I’d be, but it was not in the USA for sure I use to think. I would never voice this ever to my parents…
In my bedroom I would sometimes recite Lokeshvara’s mantra 1,000 times, 10,000 or whatever I had time for as it had to be done covertly. My parents had gone to a party and I was lucky to stay home (usually I would be dragged to one of those parties in a suit and tie and hated it) so I lit incense, a butterlamp and recited Lokeshvara’s mantra in the darkness of my bedroom on my bed…that night I was able to do 40,000 I remembered. I stopped because I was at it for most of the night and was getting sleepy…but very happy with myself. I felt I had done something useful.
Whenever my mom beat me, accuse me, threaten me, I would focus on Lokeshvara and forgive her. I would do my best not to get angry with her and let it go. The beatings, punishments, violence and threats became much more as I grew older because my poor mom’s schizophrenia became worse and untreated. She was not evil just overwhelmed by a horrible mental disease left untreated. I used to feel so sorry for her and loved her and at the same time be very frightened of her….. My mom would sometimes threaten to stab me with a knife while I was sleeping and my bedroom door was not allowed to ever be closed or locked. It was her rule and I had to abide. If my door was closed, she would storm in and raid my drawers and question what I was doing. She threatened to physically kill me on many occasions and going to bed at night I would have a hard time falling asleep because I thought she’d be coming to my room with a knife. She used to graphically describe to me how she would stab me… I believed her and was frightened but there was no one to tell. So I just stayed quiet. I prayed. I didn’t pray to escape my parents, my deep spirituality was something in me very deep even before the abuse…But my parents knowing I wanted to become a monk, it further irritated them and further irritated my mom’s anger and ‘stirred’ her illness and paranoia. Poor lady. I love her and always will…I have no ill will towards her and I miss her.
Turkey Swamp holds such beautiful memories for me. Memories of meditations, my good friend Marc, Lokeshvara and pretending to be a meditation yogi in the forest. I always ran away to the forest to meditate as a kid. We had quite a few wooded areas around in Howell, New Jersey where I grew up.
I am so glad our TSEM RINPOCHE BIO RESEARCH TEAM went to Turkey Swamp with Marc who took them there…seeing them there brought back vivid memories of a strange kid who meditated by its lakes and wished to achieve Nirvana so badly or at least communion with Lord Avalokiteshvara.
Well, Turkey Swamp still looks pristine after 30 years and it was certainly nice to see my friends/students there. I thank everyone for the pictures. I again thank Marc to share so much with our group.
P.S. Marc and I use to hang out alot. Marc is a VERY VERY VERY GOOD ARTIST WITH NATURAL UNTRAINED TALENT. We use to hang out together and listen to Heart and paint. I would ask Marc to paint a lot of Hippie scene pictures for me..I wish I still had them. I would tell him the scene I’d wanted and he’d paint it. I loved hippies because they were free, renounced and into Eastern Mysticism in my mind which is what I liked. I told Marc I was born too late and I wanted to be a hippie and live in a commune & practice dharma…Marc would just stare at me and tell me I was very strange…LOL…But he would paint for me and his paintings are really good. Sometimes I hang out at his house with other neighbour kids and they’d play volleyball and I would be the referee because if the ball fell on a questionable spot, I would be called upon to say in or out. Marc told them that I never lied…so can trust my judgement…Marc and I went to the same school also…same class. He is a very talented writer and poet. I use to admire his writings in Ms Bohen’s English class. Marc was a very good writer.
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