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Five Lands Of The Spiritual Path

Spoken By The Supreme Master Ching Hai,
At The 7-Day Retreat in Cambodia

May 14, 1996 (Originally In English)

There was a master, supposed to be very enlightened, and one day he was sitting there in a very expansive mood, so the disciples asked him about the stages of consciousness that he had passed through. The master told them that, one by one, God led him from one stage of consciousness to another. He told the disciples that God first led him by the hand and walked with him into the Land of Action. There the master dwelt for several years. God came back again and led the master to the Land of Sorrow. There the master lived until his heart was cleansed of all the inordinate attachment. That was when the master found himself in the Land of Love, whose burning flames consumed whatever was left of the self (meaning the small self). This brought the master to the Land of Silence where the mysteries of life and death were reviewed before his wondering eyes.

The disciples asked him, "Was that the final stage of your quest for the divine?

The master said, "No, no. That was not the final stage.

One day God said to the master, who was at that time a seeker of the Truth, "Today I shall take you to the inner most sanctuary of the temple, to the heart of God Hirmself. So the master, at that time, was led to the Land of Laughter.

In the journey to the Land of the Absolute, I think we have to pass through many stages of understanding, many stages of consciousness in order to understand the complete Truth at the end.

The Land Of Action

So, let's see where God has led the seeker of Truth who later became a master. First, God led him to the Land of Action and let him stay there for several years. What is meant by the Land of Action. Anyone know? I think that the Land of Action means that when we first came into contact with the God power, the incredible energy and blessing that we received from within after the initiation or after we came in contact with the Truth or the absolute power, we became very overwhelmed, very excited, very charged with all kinds of incredible creative thinking. Then, all this thinking will be translated into actions during our daily life. So, we would like to do this, we would like to do that, we would like to give charity, we would like to spread the teaching, we would like to become a renunciate, we would like to rescue people, we would like to print books, we would like to do many, many, many things.

Also, we can certainly discover that we have many dormant talents. Like suddenly, we will be able to write very beautiful poetry or beautiful essays, and we were not able to do this before. Or we'll be able to talk eloquently, and for a long time maybe. (Laughter) Sometimes we bore the audience to sleep. (Laughter) That's good, at least for the insomniac people; they can benefit from our teaching. Then, we'll probably be able to do some handicrafts, maybe some exquisite paintings or many, many things.

Then we stay there. We see our work, our talent, our ability benefits mankind in different ways and benefits ourself. We like it, we enjoy it, we feel so good. We feel life is happy, lively and full of creative energy; and we love that. So, God will let us stay there for some years in order to act out our excitement and to let the steam off our chest, because we have too much bubbling energy that suddenly came into us and we are so overflow with it. So, this is the first stage of our enlightenment. That is perhaps what the master has described as the Land of Action.

We see some of our new initiates, so absolutely enthusiastic. You can't stop him, you can't stop her going out and distributing sample booklets to the dogs, cats and mice on the streets or whatever. Any sentient beings he sees he just distributes sample booklets (laughter), or gives photos to stray dogs or something. This consequently leads us to many over-doing actions. Sometimes this is very difficult. We will be very, very proud of this, that we are spreading the teaching of the Master, and that we do this, that and the other. OK.

Doing and doing are different. Many of you are still doing the same thing right now, but with a different attitude. I don't mean the way you are doing now is like this enthusiastic, enlightened fool, the first newly initiated; but, you know now what you're doing. You do it with a more calm manner, and with the more realization that this is okay, we should do it. But before, if you did it and someone stopped you for some reason, you'd kill him! (Laughter) You told him, "You are the devil. You are stopping the teaching of the Master. You are stopping the doings of a saint like me, etc.!!!

We try to convert every being into our belief. That's how sometimes we clash with other people, like our family members, our friends, our dogs and cats even; because we force them into our system without having a deep enough wisdom to handle the human psychology, to let them understand our good will and the benefits and the truth of our path. We just have a lot of tremendous energies, creative ideas; but, we do not have enough wisdom yet to handle this energy.

Therefore, in the beginning of our practice, when we're still in the Land of Action, we often committed a lot of mistakes and created more enemies than friends. Sometimes, luckily, we happen to catch a small fish; but we have lost a lot of bait, too, because of our beginner clumsiness. So, I think that's what the master meant by the Land of Action. He just simply said the Land of Action, but we can imagine what it is like to dwell in the Land of Action. I think that's just about it.

The Land Of Sorrow: Reflect On The Ephemeral Nature of Life

Then, the next stage of consciousness is the Land of Sorrow. What is meant by the Land of Sorrow? It is that after we have done so much, we have achieved so much, and maybe we have failed so much in many of our endeavors, then suddenly we realized; or we came into contact with so many ungrateful beings and then many things we wanted did not come true because of our hastiness, because of our clumsiness, because of our exasperated expectation of the Lord's power or because of the over-use of God power. Sometimes, we use it for magical power, we use the God power for healing purposes, or we use it for just small gain like for material comfort, for family reunion or the harmony of our relationship.

Then after that, after several years of trying in the Land of Action, trying our best to do things, to serve people in our way, in our good, well-meaning but clumsy way -- we fail a lot of times, we don't have appreciation from people, and sometimes we find that the people are not as enthusiastic as ourselves, or do not cooperate -- then, we feel very disappointed, very, very lonely and very terrible. Then, something that we have prayed for, like the best for our relationship, things like that, we get. But these things we prayed for turned out to be more burdensome to us, more of a sorrow than a happiness. Then, we begin to experience a lot of disappointment, a lot of unhappiness, a lot of discontentment.

That is the time that we begin to reflect on the ephemeral nature of life. We begin to feel that, "Oh! After all, everything amounts to nothing at the end. It doesn't matter how much we struggle in this ephemeral life, we don't gain much, we can not keep much." God lets us into this Land of Sorrow so that we will be able to detach ourselves from all these mundane desires, from all these ephemeral expectations, so that we will be free -- free of desires, and free of all these unhappy phenomena which are caused by our own desires for these material, short-lasting things.

Enter The Land Of Love

After we detach ourselves from all these inordinate desires and attachments, then we will feel more calm and contented, and that is when we enter the so-called Land of Love. The Land of Love is the stage of consciousness in which we will feel that our desires, our attachments and our expectations are all gone; and now we begin to feel very peaceful, and we feel we can love.

After we have experienced so many disappointments and sorrows, then we begin to feel more settled down within ourselves, and we begin to feel the indiscriminating love between us and all sentient beings. Perhaps at that time we are willing to sacrifice just about anything, because of this love, because we feel that "you and I are the same and all sentient beings are the same. This is the stage, I think, in Taoism that they call "all beings are one -- something like that.

This is the stage that many of the masters and many religious groups have mentioned. But then, after we lost our self, lost the ego of the individual self, we will begin to find ourselves in absolute quietness, absolute silence, because we feel there's nothing more to talk about. We feel that we have understood everything. We feel that all beings are just peaceful and okay the way they are. Then, we will not have to worry about them or even try to help them. After we have understood the deep love within ourselves, there's nothing more we should do. That's what we feel. So, we become more quiet, more introverted. We do not like to speak much. We do not like to discuss anymore. We do not like to criticize people even, because we know everything is just arranged the way it is.

Perhaps this is also in Taoism. They call it at that stage where we feel that everything is okay under the sun. The same like in Buddhism, it is mentioned that, "I have rescued sentient beings but no sentient beings have been rescued. Something like we resign to the will of the Most High. Perhaps that's what it is. Many people mistake this stage for the final achievement of enlightenment.

The Land Of Silence: Searching For The Secrets Of Life And Death

After the Land of Sorrow the seeker of Truth entered the Land of Love, and after that he entered the Land of Silence. Then, when in the Land of Silence he has experimented with the mysteries of life and death, there was nothing more to be experienced. He knows what life is about, what death is about. He doesn't fear death anymore and he doesn't cling to life anymore than death itself.

The disciples asked him if that was the final stage of achievement. Also the master said, "No, because one day God took him to a higher sanctuary of inner realization. That land is called the Land of Laughter. Now, you wonder why, after this troublesome practice we just end up in a house of laughing. Do you believe that? According to this book. So, the Land of Laughter is suppose to be the inner-most sanctuary of God. Can this be true?

The Land Of Laughter: Live Life With A Sense of Humor

Now, after the life and death mysteries have been revealed to the seeker of the Truth, then, after some times of more effort and sincerity, God will take us to the Land of Laughter. That's where we have a lot of jokes and everything is funny to us. There are no more miserable Buddhas, there are no serious Bodhisattvas that walk around trying to show people that they have worked hard, that they are devoted to Master, that they love Master so much that they have to jump in front of everyone just to see the Master, etc. That's why you have often heard that most masters have a lot of humor, they can laugh at everyone, even God and themselves. That is the landmark of an enlightened person. They have arrived at the Land of Laughter, because they know everything is really just a game. It is very difficult for us if we don't understand that person. If we don't, we are not near there; and it's difficult to laugh with them. If such a master or such an enlightened sage has to mix with serious Buddhas or miserable Quan Yin Bodhisattvas (Master laughs), then they suffer; because they will be dragged back into the Land of Sorrow, and that's very suffocating.

I hope all of you in the future will transform yourselves from whatever stage into Bodhisattvas. Then, we will all go into the Land of Laughter, share jokes, and look at life in a very funny way, in a very light manner; that we can bear this together because, actually, life can be fun.

When I am in private, I laugh all day long (Master laughs). You can not understand it. Sometimes some of the disciples or some of my friends, they come and stay with me for a while, or if I invite them sometimes, I am always laughing. I make jokes with them. They all laugh; and if they are also funny, they make jokes and we laugh and laugh all day long. Sometimes, when I have dinner, if I have time, we laugh for about three, four hours until the dinner is finished and for no particular reason. Sometimes it's not a very funny joke; just we joke, so we feel so full of joy, we laugh all the time.

Quan Yin Method