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Volume 6 no 4

It's A Blissful Life - Encounters of Buddhism in life by Jen Chen Buddhism practitioners

That we are well and alive does not happen by accident. It is the result of other people's compassion and loving-kindness. Thus, while some plant the Fields of Compassion, others plant the Field of Gratitude as the first story illustrates. Children are nurtured and moulded by the words and actions of their parents. Thus, they are often said to be 'chip of the old block'. The second story tells of what a child learned from his mother and his commitment to pass these on to the next generation...
The breadth of kindness and depth of gratitude
When my colleague, Chai, told me with teary eyes that he has to hurry back to his hometown in Malaysia, I knew that something must be amiss. He had told me before about his grandfather who doted on him. He was in his nineties. Because of his advanced age, my immediate thoughts were that perhaps something has happened to him. As it turned out, it wasn't so.

We sat down for a quick chat and for the next few minutes I learnt a lesson about kindness and gratitude.

Chai was born the eldest son to poor farmers in Malaysia. In Chinese families, the birth of a son is usually regarded as the herald of all things auspicious, particularly if he is the first born. Chai was the fortunate one. But it was not all that smooth. Soon after his full-month celebration, he fell sick. From then on, his health continued to deteriorate. His worried parents did whatever they could - saw one doctor after another and tried whatever traditional herbal concoctions people recommended, but they didn't seem to help. Little Chai would show signs of improvement, only to fall sick again. He was so sickly that they thought he will never make it. As a last resort, they took on a relative's suggestion that he be fostered out to another family until things get better. But who would want to look after a sickly infant? Even if someone is willing, does he have the extra means?

But, there was one kind man, Liu. He was a farmer in a neighbouring village. When Chai's mother approached him, Liu who was as poor as anybody else saw how desperate the situation was and agreed to take Chai in. Although he was a poor farmer who had 11 children of his own, he still had room in his heart for one more.

Of course, Chai added to the Liu family's burdens. However, they gave him their undivided love and took care of him as one of their own. Chai's health began to improve from strength to strength. Before he was one year old, he regained his health and was returned to his family. Chai's parents had never forgotten about Liu's kindness. They taught him to be grateful to the man who had saved his life. Of course Chai was too young to know what he had gone through, yet over the years the strong sense of gratitude helped to create a strong bond between the two families. Chai also regarded Liu as his father and Liu's family as his own.

That was many years ago. Now Chai has a family of his own and Liu laid critically ill, not having much longer to live. He had to hurry home to see him and thank him again, perhaps for the last time. If Liu's time were indeed up, perhaps his presence would help to give him a peace of mind.

What struck me immediately was the compassion and loving-kindness of a poor farmer, and the depth of gratitude of a man whose life the farmer had saved. While Chai spoke, I was moved and had to hold back the tears welling in my eyes.

Two days later, Chai called me from Malaysia to inform us that his 'father' had passed away. And, yes, Liu did wait for him.

When I related the story to my other friends, they too felt the kindness of Liu and the gratitude of Chai. I believe there is room in everyone's heart to appreciate stories of compassion, loving-kindness, giving and gratitude like this. I have Chai to thank for these lessons, for I feel that both his and Liu's actions are worthy for us to emulate.
Lessons from my Mother
One of my earliest and fondest memories of my mother is that time when she came to see me in school unexpectedly. I was about six years old and had just begun school. It was indeed a joyous occasion. She bought me sweets, which was a rare treat because we could hardly afford such a luxury. It was also a special occasion for me because she was not able to accompany me on my first day of school and I had to go with the older neighbourhood kids. She must love me a lot to walk those miles in the sun to come and see me in school. That was my earliest conscious appreciation of my mother and her love.

We had little and life was tough. At one time all seven of us were in school. For the most part of our formative years my father had to work away from home. We learned our values of life mostly from her. The quality of life in those early years, in the material sense, was Spartan by today's standards. However, in the moral and ethical sense, it was very rich. Against the advice from some of our neighbours to put her children to work rather than in school, she borrowed from friends and relatives so that we could remain in school. She never had an education herself, but she could see that our future lies in having an education. Some of us eventually went to university. The others completed secondary education and went to work, partly because they felt duty bound to relieve our financial burden. We learned about courage, wisdom and responsibility.

Often we ran errands for her like borrowing or returning grocery items such as sugar or some rice, or even money to tide us over difficult times. She never failed to remind us to say "thank you" to these people. We learned to be grateful, to be honest and to return what does not belong to us. I vividly remember that time when an old beggar came to our house and asked for some money. He held out a worn out a half coconut shell, which contained some coins. We were poor ourselves but she gave him a few coins. Another time, it was during the lunar New Year, she did not give us the traditional "hong pao" because times were bad for us. We didn't dare ask. Yet, when a relative came visiting with her little son, my mother gave that fortunate kid a "hong pao".
It must have worth at least a dollar and twenty cents! A dollar and twenty cents - that was a big sum! We didn't get any from his mother though. It was very painful for us, but we learned. We learned about giving.

She farmed on the land and eventually bought it over with money borrowed from her own mother and brother. The merchants liked doing business with her because she was prompt with her payments. It is her principle not to fail others who put their trust in her. On many occasions she vehemently resisted my father's proposal to sell the land and use the money to go into business. Businesses could go either way, but without the land how are we going to live? She was right. On the land, my father eventually built a small factory. We all chipped in. My father fulfilled his dreams. He passed away a few years ago, but the business that he set up continues to thrive. We learned about perseverance, trustworthiness and wisdom.

Now we have all grown up and have children of our own, but her love for us remains as strong as ever. Her bliss and blessings are the envy of many.

Here is a mother who gave her children a set of values to live life with. Without which, life may still be filled with material comfort, but it would have been a life of emptiness at the same time. A mother who gave her children a set of values that nobody can take away from them. They are now theirs to pass on.

She could have been anybody's mother, but I am just very fortunate that I have her as mine.

Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre