The Buddha Mind, Universe, and Awakening


A Shocking Experience

A Dialogue between Master Sheng Yen and Astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell

Date: May 31, 2008
Venue: First Floor Auditorium, National Chiang Kai- shek Memorial Hall, Taipei
Moderator: Prof. Raymond Yeh, professor of Asia University

Dialogue parties:
Master Sheng Yen, founder of Dharma Drum Mountain
Dr. Edgar D. Mitchell, American Astronaut

Prof. Yeh:
Among Dr. Edgar Mitchell's many accomplishments, the most important one is that he was the sixth person to land on the moon. Why do we say it is his most important accomplishment? On his way back to the earth, when he saw that the earth was so small, while the whole universe was so vast, he suddenly underwent a special experience. After he returned to the earth, he couldn't understand this kind of experience for a long time. As a scientist, because he couldn't explain such an experience in a scientific way, he set up a research institute to focus on researches on the relationship between science and spirituality.

Master Sheng Yen is the first person to advocate the concept of Protecting the Spiritual Environment in the world. Over the decades, he has been promoting the vision of "uplifting the character of humanity and building a pure land on earth." He was selected by Common Wealth Magazine as one of the 50 most influential persons in Taiwan in the past 400 years.

Dr. Mitchell, I think one of the epiphanies you have experienced is when you came back from the moon. You experienced some earth-shattering, mind-boggling experience. Can you share that in brief, so that maybe Master Sheng Yen can respond from a Buddhist point of view?

Dr. Mitchell:

I'd be delighted. Yes. It was after the successful completion of the work on the lunar surface we started heading home. And the orientation of the spacecraft coming home was such that we were perpendicular to the flight path and we were rotating. That was to keep thermal balance on the spacecraft from the sun, to make sure that the spacecraft was equally heated all around. But what that allowed to happen was, every two minutes as we rotated, this picture of the earth, of the moon, of the sun, and 360 degrees of the heaven was visible in the spacecraft's window. And we must point out that in space, because of the lack of atmosphere, there is nothing to obstruct the vision of the stars. On earth the stars we look at are twinkling. But in space, without the atmosphere that causes the twinkling, you see the stars just as bright as they are, and they are ten times brighter and ten times more than you can possibly see from the highest mountain on earth at the clearest night. And what it does as I watched this, it was utterly magnificent.

Some of you may have seen some of the recent pictures from the Hubble space telescope. What we can see in space with naked eyes is almost what we can see with eyes using a smaller telescope from earth. And the universe is so magnificent and so beautiful that it just defies description. You have to see it to understand it. With a doctorate in astronomy and training at Harvard and MIT in the United States, I realized that the molecules of my body, and the molecules of the spacecraft, and the molecules of my partners' bodies were created in star systems. That's how the matter in our universe is created. Matter is made in star systems. And instead of being an intellectual idea for me at that point, it was an ethereal idea. It was at the feeling level; it was the emotional level that those were my molecules created in the ancient star system, and I was akin to the stars. And it was a feeling of ecstasy and joy to recognize this connection to the whole universe and to feel it in that way.

This experience continued when I wasn't working. I still had work to do, of course, flying the spacecraft. But when I got a chance to look out the window as we rotated and saw this magnificent panorama of the heaven, the earth, the moon, and the sun, it was just overwhelming, and I felt this joy, the ecstasy of being a part of this. And I realized that we humans on earth, throughout our whole history, have always asked questions as we looked into the heavens, such as "who am I?" "what is it all about?" What is my relationship to all of these?? More...

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