When I was little, I liked to accompany my master Xiao Yao when he occasionally visited other monasteries on official business or to see old friends, which could last for days or sometimes even weeks. All the places we visited had a temple similar to ours at Jiuyi Temple, and that was always the first place my Master visited when we arrived.
Xiao Yao would go through the same routine each time inside the temple. First, he would walk up to one of the Buddha statues, meditate in front of it for a while, and then work his way around the room, spending a few moments with all the other statues. Some temples had hundreds of statues. If we were pressed for time, he would pause for only a few seconds in front of each one. But if we had more time, he would close his eyes with his hands in prayer position and remain in a deep meditative state for a long while.
I would mimic him for a few minutes. Then I would grow bored and run off to explore the temple grounds and talk to the monks. When I returned hours later, my Master would still be standing in front of a statue, lost in deep concentration. I once asked Xiao Yao about why he did that, and he replied by retelling the popular story about Master Foyin and the crafty scholar Su Dongpo.
Su Dongpo prided himself on his wit and liked to debate Master Foyin. One day, over tea, he challenged the Master. “Foyin, people think you are an enlightened monk, but to me you just look like a big, stinking pile of worthless dung sitting on your pillow all day long.”
Su Dongpo leaned backward and crossed his arms slyly.
Master Foyin placed his hands in prayer position, “My dear Dongpo, but to me you look like a Buddha.”
Su Dongpo grinned and bid Master Foyin farewell.
When Su Dongpo got home, he was wearing a triumphant smile. His sister asked him what happened.
“Today I outsmarted Master Foyin,” Su Dongpo replied, then recounted the events to her.
“Oh no, brother! I’m sorry to tell you this, but you lost badly,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you realize that the world mirrors the heart? Master Foyin sees you as a Buddha because he is a Buddha. You see him as a pile of dung. What does that make you?”
Su Dongpo turned beet red. Then, all of a sudden, he became enlightened.
Xiao Yao elaborated by explaining that he used his “temple rounds” to open his heart to each Buddha statue and merge with it. Going around the room while holding that attitude trained him to become more like Master Foyin, who experienced all people—including a mischief-maker like Su Dongpo—as living Buddha.
I tell this story each time before I teach one of my favorite practices, the Lotus Meditation, as it yields the same spiritual benefit that Xiao Yao derived from his temple rounds. But instead of meditating in front of a tangible statue and merging with it, you visualize a Holy Being of love, guide it to your heart, and merge with it there. And then, as you look around, you’ll see all the faces before you reflecting back beautiful Buddha smiles.
© 2013 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies