This morning when I was told to conduct a dharma sharing session with our Than Hsiang staff, my head just went blank. Many times when this happened, Venerable Zhen Xin would be there to give me timely guidance and support. I am deeply grateful for her unremitting guidance and support.
I am only a beginner on the Path, a student and very lacking in many aspects; definitely very inadequate in the dharma practice. Let us take this opportunity to learn and grow together on the dharma path.
Venerable Hui Ming had delivered three dharma talks to IBC students during his two-day visit to IBC on 15 th and 16 th July. Undoubtedly, the students had learnt much from his talk, especially for the Chinese students. They found the two dialogue sessions to be both inspiring as well as pragmatic. We were all very much inspired and suffused with dharma at the end of the sessions.
I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the succinct points of his talk, in the hope this will also serve as a review for the dharma he had already shared with many of you here in Than Hsiang for the past week.
Firstly, Venerable Hui Ming used an apt analogy of a tree. Our dharma practice requires us to be down to earth reaching down to the roots. But what is the root? To attain Buddhahood is the root. Like a small seedling that sprouts from a seed, begins its long journey of growth and ultimately stands as a big tree towering in full foliage – such is Than Hsiang Temple. Isn't the view from the top of the tree spectacular? Isn't the breeze cool and refreshing from the tree top? Nevertheless, doesn't such high position and status pose greater dangers and risks? What happens when the wind sweeps past the top of the tree? The strong thrust of the wind causes the leaves to brush against each other, and because of the abrasion, the leaves break-off from the branches and fall away. Similarly, when we have scaled up the hierarchical ladder of power and status and have reached the apex, aren't we facing the same predicament as the fallen leaves?
Now, let us examine the leaves and the extensive branches, are they important? Likewise, is the thick and rough trunk important? And are the roots situated right at the bottom important? Likened to the single tiny screw of a machine, without it, the machine will fail to operate. Each and every part of the tree; each member of the Than Hsiang family plays an important role. Those below should constantly radiate gratitude, respect and appreciation towards those above. And those at the top should give unto others the care, support and thoughtfulness. If each one of us fulfils our duty and responsibilities, this will help the Than Hsiang tree to grow big and strong, blossoming with flowers of Than Hsiang fragrance and dharma fruits. In truth, the thick and rough truck may be unrefined, but it can build upon the roots as well as pillaring the entire full foliage of the tree. The simplicity of the rough truck does not undermine its potential.
Venerable Hui Ming advised that when we work, we have to be intelligent but be simple as a person. We need to be efficient, precise and resourceful in tackling our work. When others point out our weaknesses, we should simply say, “Oh yes, please accept my apologies, it is my mistake!” When others find fault with us, we should simply say: “Please forgive my failings!” Thus, we are always readily receptive and humble.
We need to be thankful to those who are willing to point out our weaknesses. These are good opportunities for us to grow on the dharma path. Do not wait until you have caused yourself to be in the depth of hopelessness in which others have entirely shut us out. Many times, words and tone of voice may be harsh and hurting, but it is more important to search for the meaning and the intentions behind the words. If we begin to penetrate through the superficialities, we will be able to appreciate the good intentions behind the words. Let us transform negativities into our own bodhi supplements. Especially in Than Hsiang's complex working network, almost everyday, conditions would arise as challenges – we make the choice of either facing the challenges by resolving problems with wisdom or with more delusion.
This resonate well with what Shi Fu (Venerable Wei Wu) has always emphasized – to use wisdom and not delusion. When one uses wisdom, one lowers oneself down to the roots. Let us move from the top and down to the roots. One humbles oneself to be an ordinary person. We needn't put on a display of spiritual attainment, sitting there posing to be like the Buddha. That is not the way! The art of dharma practice is to be ordinary yet unordinary; unordinary yet ordinary. It may not be easy to accomplish this level of practice but it directs us back to the very roots.
One day, a visitor approached and passed a comment right in Venerable Hui Ming's face, “Who do you think you are? You are nothing!” Just imagine, Ven. Hui Ming who is a respectable elder of high prestige and held in high esteem, what would his reaction be at that very instant? If you were him, how would you feel? Will you be in a fit of fury and indignation? Venerable Hui Ming replied, “Yes indeed, what he said is true. I am nothing, neither a thing nor not a thing; neither who nor what.” This calls to mind Shi Fu's admonishment given to me just a few days ago. Shi Fu said, “Faced with blame and subject to injustice, let one be utterly flattened and hammered down to nothing, then there will be no more ego!”
Venerable Hui Ming concluded by reminding us to cherish the value of life, to appreciate life itself. For one who truly appreciates life, he dedicates his entire life in the fulfilment of Buddhahood. This echoes the “optimum rebirth” that Shi Fu has taught in the concise Lam Rim course. To be here in Than Hsiang for the past week savouring the taste of dharma from the talks delivered by Venerable Hui Ming has been blessings and conditions that were truly precious. Please pause for a moment and ponder, if there was no Than Hsiang Temple, you all would not have benefited and derived so much joy from the dharma talks. And in order for Than Hsiang to be standing today would require Shi Fu's parents to give birth to him, for Shi Fu to grow up, to pursue his studies in New Zealand, to renounce the world and don the noble robes of a bhikkhu, to have founded Than Hsiang Temple, to have met Venerable Hui Ming and become Shi Fu's Kalyana Mitra, and have invited Venerable Hui Ming to deliver talks here. On the other hand, it would also require you to have your parents bring you to this world, for you to grow up, to learn dharma and dedicating yourself in Than Hsiang Temple. If any one of the conditions within this intricate fabric of karma was absent, we will not be here today. Find within you the gratitude for the people around you who have been supporting conditions to make all these happen – they have helped you grow on the dharma path.
I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to pursue postgraduate studies in Hong Kong University. Entrance into Hong Kong University was not without obstacles. It was with the full support of teacher Bhante Prof. Dhammajoti, Shi Fu and members of our Than Hsiang Sangha that helped me crossed many hurdles. It had been a blessing that the Centre of Buddhist Studies of Hong Kong University had granted full scholarship which took away the financial burden that Chang Zhu and Shi Fu had to shoulder.
Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan society and fast paced city life. There were academic intellectuals of both genders from different nationalities and varied age groups congregating at the postgraduate hostel that I was staying in. It seemed a little odd that the only nun should be residing amid intellectuals that party through out the night and slumbered in the day time. What put me in pensive thought was the topsy turvy and profligate life style of many young adults who were fortunate enough to be blessed with high intellect but were wasting away their “optimum rebirth”. Parents had gone through sweat and tears to support the academic pursuits of their children but wouldn't such waywardness utterly break their hearts? The younger generation will one day be the one to build the future, and what kind of future generations are we moulding with the current trend lacking in morality?
Alone without Shi Fu and the monastic community as my constant watch tower, mindfulness became my watch tower against aberration from the path. Daily morning and evening service and one hour of meditation was part of my life and were maintained even in times of sickness and hectic workloads. The pair of legs had become my most reliable mode of transport between the hostel and university campus. Everyday, taking the twenty or thirty minutes silent, solitary walk to pack my vegetarian lunch was like being immersed in the shadows of monks traversing through villages with each mindful step in their solitary alms round.
I had shared this with the female students of IBC and they are very blessed in many ways. Despite the fact that Shi Fu may visit IBC only once a week, students could still feel his presence. For ten months, I was without Shi Fu's physically presence, but what is most important is to imbue Shi Fu's admonishments in one's heart and apply them whenever and wherever possible. Being dull-witted, I may not apply them adeptly, but will continue to strive on.
Upon receiving the official acceptance from Hong Kong University, it was clear that I need to fulfil my primary role as a student, a Buddhist bhikshuni. No matter what obstacles and difficulties that stands in the way, I need to find the courage and strength to overcome all of them, to pick myself up from each stumble and fall, and continue the long journey that lies ahead. Greatly indebted to the kind support and sacrifices that many have made to make all these possible. But how do I repay their kindness? During the vacations, fellow classmates would go out on trips abroad, but like a turtle hiding in a cave, I would remain in my room and continue to bury myself in the books.
Truly, I cannot take any credit for what had been accomplished in Hong Kong University. All these would not have been possible without the guidance, patience and compassion from teacher Bhante Prof. Dhammajoti, Shi Fu, all the members of our ThanHsiang monastic community and the entire Big ThanHsiang family.
In the hope that you all have already planted the seeds for Buddhahood, my deepest gratitude!