English | Vietnamese


Karma Sonata


By Phil Hirsch on Sept. 19th, 2012 in the Buddha Hall at CTTB

Vajra Bodhi Sea, February, 2013, pages 137-139



My name is Phil Hirsch. I'm a resident volunteer here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas; my main function is maintaining the Sound Department. What I’d like to talk about tonight is reincarnation, how the wheel of karma keeps moving and how we keep perpetuating that karma.


When I was very young, maybe around five or six years old, my parents bought some property and we went to see it. In one of the rooms I saw a piano. This was the first time in this lifetime that I’d ever seen a piano. I walked over to it, and as I put my hands on the keys, I had what I thought was a daydream. I saw my hands on the keyboard performing, superimposed over my real hands. It was as if I was transported. I was looking at the keyboard and I instantly knew how to play the piano. When the day had ended, I had written a very short song and was thrilled to be rediscovering the piano.


During this time my mother was often very angry with me. From the time when I was born until I was 8 or 10 years old, she would constantly yell at me and beat me. One day when I was about 10, I told her that she could not do that any more. She looked at me and very quickly turned around and walked away. From that day onward, she never beat me again. She yelled quite a bit, but stopped beating me.


As my life progressed I continued to have glimpses of that past lifetime, especially with regard to music. I’m now in my seventy-first year of life. I have talked about music, played music professionally, have been a record producer and recording engineer, and have taught a method on how to improvise. Yet to this day, I still can’t read or write music. It has always come to me intuitively.


I was introduced to Buddhism in 1961, and probably in part because of meditation, I still have memories, of other lifetimes. One time when I was meditating, I had a vision. In that vision I saw a house. I was above the house, looking down onto a street scene in Europe, hundreds of years ago. It was night and snowing; there was a woman walking toward the house. As I saw this woman approaching the house, I saw she was holding a little baby She knocked on the door and the door opened. An old man stepped out and I knew immediately that the old man was me, that the woman was my daughter and that she had just had a child out of wedlock.


In that lifetime, my major concern had been for wealth and fame as a composer and conductor, and I had achieved both. I was very upset with her, to the point that I disowned her and kicked her out of the house with her baby I had no compassion or pity for her. She had tarnished my name and reputation.


I realized later that my mother in this lifetime had been my daughter in that lifetime. I once asked my mother if she remembered beating me when I was a child. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said yes, “There hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t remembered those days.” She then said "I don’t know why I hit you so horribly!” My mother asked for my forgiveness and I gave it to her.


We talked about it a little more and I thought it was over. At the time of this conversation, I was not aware of our past karma; that came later during meditation. But after having this vision, I realized that the reason she was hitting me was because of what I had done to her and her baby in that pest lifetime, and I felt absolutely horrible. I then made a vow to end my family’s dysfunction: our greed, stupidity and anger.


My mother passed away a few years ago at the age of 96. From the 1970s until she passed away, we had become very close. On her deathbed two years ago, I was holding her hand when she looked up at me and said, “how can you still love mc after all I did to you when you were young?” For all those years it was still on her mind. For 96 years she had to live with that memory; I did not know how to tell her it was my fault. I was the reason that she hit me. So I made a vow to end what I considered my personal family dysfunction.


Here we are in the Dharma-ending Age where greed, anger and stupidity are the norm. It is very difficult to cultivate in the outside world where everyone agrees that anger is okay and where everyone agrees that greed is okay. Once I arrived at CTTB, about 4 years ago, the one thing that I didn’t have in the outside world that I have here is good knowing advisors and wonderful sutras to read. By reading the sutras, I finally understood how to make dysfunction into function. This had eluded me all my life, even though I had been meditating.


Although the Buddha taught for many years and spoke many sutras, I found that on some levels, the sutras are really quite simple. it is the understanding that it is simple. The cultivation or practice of that understanding however can be quite difficult. How do I change anger into non-anger? I practice patience. Patience, patience, patience. When I feel my anger come up, I take a deep breath and I practice patience. It's absolutely amazing that it only takes minutes for that anger to dissipate as I apply patience. If I find I’m getting greedy and I’m thinking too much of myself I practice generosity. It is just so simple. When I experience an affliction, and I know it by the way I feel, I find its opposite and practice it. Fear to courage, anger to patience, greed to generosity, and stupidity to wisdom.


During the 50 year event that we have just had this past June, which was absolutely a wonderful event that turned out really well, I remembered how we were all struggling to make the event happen. During the event, there was a point where I was asked to move my sound table. I instantly got angry and said, ‘No, that cannot be done, I cannot move the sound table.” A few people around me, Fulin was one, gently reminded me of the reality of the situation. As I was defending my space and my position, I saw how simple it would be to move the table 6 feet and give them the room they needed. While I was defending myself and getting angry, I started to feel ashamed of myself. I realized how stupid I was being. It was because of the people here and the gentle advice I was being given that 1 was able to subdue the anger and move the table. Moving the table took only 2 seconds, but my anger had already taken 2 or 3 minutes. The event went on wonderfully. And so there was an example of how this community and the sutras helped me to curb my anger.


At the end of the event or dose to the end of the event, DM Yin came up to me. I said to her, Here we are, we are having this big 50 year event for Master Hua. Do you really think that he would want this to happen, where we have to interrupt everything at the very end and make changes?’ She gently looked up at me, smiled and said, “Let me tell you a story: One time, Master Hua wanted to put together a lecture event and he invited many people. We set up a big venue, we put the tables exactly where he wanted them and the chairs exactly where he wanted them. ‘Then on the day of the lecture, just before it started, he told us he wanted to move everything. He wanted the table over there and the chairs over here, and I got it.”


One of the beautiful things about this city and also why it may or may not function as well as you or I would like it to, is that we are really here just to cultivate. We are here to become better human beings. I just hope that the structures don’t fall apart before that happens, but I’m very thrilled and I’m very happy to be part of this community. Yes, we are supposed to be where we can recognize our shortcomings; we are supposed to do the best we can to change them; and we are supposed to become regular functioning human beings with the compassion and understanding of the connectedness of everything. Amitofo!