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Volume 7 no 1

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

Using a persimmon tree and the juicy fruits that it bears as a metaphor to a provider and the provisions that it makes for our well being, the first encounter suggests that there are many persimmon trees in our life. Take good care of them and we will continue to enjoy our blessings.
A farmer's hard work in tending to his crops is the cause and a bountiful harvest is the effect. In other words, all hard works shall have their rewards. In case, we falsely believe that there are substitutions for hard work, the Buddha advises in the second story that no deities can bestow good fortune or disaster upon anyone.
The big persimmon tree

My father, whose father was born in China and immigrated to Singapore at the turn of the last century, told me this story.

Our ancestral house in Fujian province was home to a big extended family stretching several generations at a time. As time passed, new family nuclei were created. More rooms were added to house the growing clan. Even then, they were not sufficient. Those who were better off began to move out of the ancestral home and built their own around it. Indeed, often people were known as so-and-so's children or grandchildren rather than by their names. As one would expect, there were gossips, frictions, quarrels and fights, usually stemming from trivialities involving children or the womenfolk. The younger generations naturally felt more for their own homes than the ancestral headquarters. It was difficult for them to have the sense of ownership or responsibility. Indeed, they abused it by moving things into their own homes, or using it as a store. People gave excuses or shrugged their shoulders when there was work to be done. Some couldn't care less, others laid claim to a room or some space and, as was often the case, they were simply locked up to prevent others from occupying them. It was therefore left to deteriorate.

Like the ancestral house, the big persimmon tree that stood in the courtyard was also subject to abuse. People lean heavy objects on it, hang a swing, a clothesline or simply chopping off a branch or two when they needed them. It was "nobody's" property and nobody cared about it. Yet, when it bore sweet and juicy fruits each year, everybody laid claim as their birthright. At the end of the season, it was usually an unsightly mess that resembled a tree that has been swept by a typhoon. Yet, for generations it continued to bear sweet, juicy persimmons for them.

Then, the big persimmon tree was struck by disease. It was sick. Its leaves were drying up and its bark peeling. Still, nobody cared. When it eventually dried up and died, somebody nailed a big note on its trunk - "Persimmons, sweet and juicy; where do they come from?"

The moral of the story - take good care of the source that provides for our well being and we will continue to enjoy our blessings.

Figurative speaking, there is a big persimmon tree in each household. It is the tree that bears sweet, juicy persimmons in terms of providing for the family, material comfort and all other things in life, tangible and otherwise. It would be such a shame if, like the story, its beneficiaries expect it to bear sweet, juicy "persimmons" and help themselves to the fruits as if it was their birthright and yet care not a bit for its well being.

To my mother, my father was the "big persimmon tree". He was the breadwinner and she made sure that he got all the dues that a breadwinner deserves. A basin of warm water, toothbrush, soap and towel await him each morning. In bad times she made do but in better times, two soft-boiled eggs, soda cream crackers and a cup of hot coffee would be the norm for breakfast. The best foods were always reserved for him. His clothes were starched and crisply ironed. When he took a nap, she made sure that we didn't disturb him.

If he was a little impatient or a little unreasonable, she took it in her stride; "It is alright with me. He works hard for the family and I appreciate that a lot. I should not add to his burden. I always give way to him, even when I was in the right. Things would prove themselves eventually. I win by being silent. We all know the source of our life. If something were to happen to him, what becomes of us?"

That was how my mother cared for her persimmon tree, from the day they were married until the day he died. We continue to enjoy the sweet, juicy persimmons to this day even though he has passed away. It struck me how just one big persimmon tree when properly taken care off can bear so many fruits for so long. To us, our parents were our big persimmon "trees", they provided for us.

In fact, this notion of the persimmon tree can be extended to all the sources that contribute to our lives: as an employee, the employer is the persimmon tree; as a businessman, it is the customers; as a student, the teachers; as a citizen, the nation, etc.

As human beings, it is natural that we want to enjoy the comforts and good things in life. They are like the sweet, juicy persimmons. Therefore, not only do we have to take good care of the persimmon tree, but we also have to do our best to protect it. How else will the sweet, juicy fruits come about? We have to be mindful, lest we unwittingly drive our persimmon tree to a premature death!

When we understand this principle we will always have tremendous blessings.
Deities cannot do the work for us

This story happened in ancient India. One day, while Buddha was leading his disciples to the city to seek alms, they came across a farm and found a farmer preparing his prayer paraphernalia to pray to the deities of the east, west, south and the north. Buddha and his disciples stopped and watched what the young farmer was doing. When the young man finally finished with the ritual, Buddha got close to him and asked him with a gentle voice, "Young man, what are you doing?"

The young man answered, "I have just said my prayers to the deities of the four directions."

Buddha asked, "Who taught you to worship the deities and why?"

The young man replied, "From my father, whom was taught by my grandfather. He taught me that if I worship the deities of the four directions, they will protect my paddy fields and there will be a bountiful harvest."

Buddha looked at the young man with compassionate eyes and asked him, "Young man, if the deities could truly protect your paddy fields, you can worship them everyday and disregard your farm. You don't have to worry whether or not there is water. You may disregard the weeds and do nothing at all. What do you think? After four months, do you think you will have paddy to harvest?"

The young man thought for a while and answered, "I think I shall not have anything for harvest."

Buddha continued, "If you did not worship your deities, but you work hard everyday. You care about the water and the weeds, and also enrich them with fertilisers. Do you think you will have a good harvest in four month's time?"

The young man replied, "I think I will have a rich harvest."

Buddha told the young man, "Since your deity could not help you to take care of your paddy from heaven and you have to depend on yourself to do all the work, you should not believe your ancestors' traditional superstition. When you work hard, you will have a good harvest. If your actions, speech and thoughts are virtuous, you will reap joyous rewards. All that needs to be done, you have to do them and whatever consequences follow, you bear them all by yourself. No deities can bestow good fortune or disaster upon you. This is the law of causation. It is a natural phenomenon and is not created by any deity."

The young man heard Buddha's teaching and felt very happy. He sought refuge with the Buddha and became his student.

Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre