My late Master, Venerable Thích Mãn Giác explained the Chinese concept of best friend to me ten years ago when he first allowed me to become a fully ordained monk. I no longer remember the exact names he used, so please forgive my poor memory: no disrespect is intended.
Long ago, in China, there was a high level official. He excelled at playing the ancient Chinese guitar. He was so good that he could find no one to appreciate his virtuosity. He therefore often would hop onto his boat and travel to distant places to play his Chinese guitar by himself.
One day, he stopped by the bank of a river in a very isolated place, and played his musical instrument. After he finished, he heard someone sigh loudly and say: “such a virtuoso – yet how can someone this gifted feel so lonely!” That was exactly what he felt when he chanced upon the deserted place; how sad have the ability to produce such beautiful music but not be able to find someone to appreciate it. The official looked up and saw a hermit sitting atop a rock above the river banks. They started talking, forgot about time, and became the best of friends.
Later, the official returned to work in the city. Afterward he hurriedly returned to the river bank to find his new friend at the first chance he could get away.
Alas, he looked and looked, but his hermit friend was nowhere to be found. Finally, he was told that his hermit friend had passed away.
The official sadly went back to his boat, grabbed his guitar and broke it into pieces. He never played the guitar again.
That is why the Chinese term for best friend is zhi yin 知 音 (Tri Âm in Vietnamese). Zhi 知 means to know; Yin 音 means sound. A best friend is one who knows your sound.
A Lifetime Thirst
I remember the story because my Master told it to me in the most affectionate way. I was very lucky to have such a magnanimous teacher. I still feel sad that I was not able to spend more time with him before he passed away.
Moreover, the story was memorable for another reason. All my life, I have always had this thirst: to be able to find a best friend, a zhi yin (tri âm). I have always felt a void in my soul that no girlfriend, wife, or male friend could ever fill.
He Finally Showed Up
Years later, as I devoted more time and effort to cultivating the Pure Land Dharma, I began reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name with increasing fervor.
Then, one night, I recited his name and he suddenly appeared, flanked by Guan Yin and Great Strength Bodhisattvas. He gently rubbed the crown of my head. At that moment, an indescribable feeling welled up in my heart.
The following day, I realized that my lifelong thirst for a zhi yin was suddenly quenched: my best friend, Amitabha Buddha, finally came to me, upon my calling his name.
I hope that you too will have Amitabha Buddha as a zhi yin.