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Volume 7 no 2

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

Wherever we look, we can see the Buddha-dharma in operation. It may be a group of athletes running a race or a harmless looking growing tree, but if we pay a little more attention to them it is possible to draw useful lessons from them. Often, the events of our environment do not catch our attention because of a missing link - the lack of awareness that the forces behind these events apply to us in our own lives as well.

Drawing on this awareness the first encounter links precepts and creating positive conditions between a running race and the changing winds of fortune of a businessman. The second links eradicating undesirable habits and self-serving temperament between straightening a young tree growing crooked and the punishment meted on a young boy.

It is a blissful life having the awareness and making Buddhism applicable to our lives.
The race isn't over until it is over

Whether we perceive life to be long or short, one thing is for sure: by the time it is through, many events would have taken place. Some of these could be events that change our life completely.

If we could liken life to a race, in the sense that it has a beginning and an end, and that in between, the positions of the participants are not fixed, then it is certainly quite a long and dynamic one. If one is the leader of the pack, well and good; but it may be too soon to rejoice while the race is still on. It is early days yet. If one is among the stragglers, he ought to seize and make good the opportunities that come along the way. If you have seen athletes running a race, perhaps you would better appreciate what I mean. The leader of the pack may not finish the race as the winner and the straggler may not be the last to cross the line.

I read about 2 families in the newspapers recently. In one story a wealthy man has taken a family dispute to the courts. He wanted the court to stop his children from selling away his family home. He was a prominent businessman who had built a huge fortune and at one time was one of the wealthiest men of the land. His children were educated overseas, and of course, life for them was a bed of roses and they were the envy of many. Their father drafted them in to work for him, one by one, when they had graduated.

They had a head start in life; they were leaders of the pack in their time. But instead of building on this headstart, they squandered it away. Their business empire suffered hefty losses and their wealth shrunk considerably. Family assets had to be sold to repay debts incurred. Finally, the old man had to move into a modest property - his last bastion and even this has become the subject of the litigation. They had fallen behind, and the race is still in progress.

What the court rules is perhaps not as important as the fact that the race looks like it is really over for them, and they are not going to finish it the way they had started. Perhaps, they might still be in the race and among the leaders if they had known about safeguarding their blessings: embrace the Five Precepts and practise the Ten Virtuous Deeds.

The other story that I read in the newspapers is about a man who had built a great fortune from scratch - the all-familiar stories of 'from rags to riches'. The question is "How will the race end?"

People strive in times of adversity in search of and creating positive conditions, but all too often at the first taste of success complacence sets in thereby completing the cycle between adversity and privilege. Venerable Shen-Kai said that "Positive conditions are ostensibly negative conditions; negative conditions are ostensibly positive conditions. Therefore, we have to constantly create positive conditions." I think this statement befits the two stories very well. The part that people tend to miss is that to stay on top, people have to constantly create positive conditions and take heed of the precepts and virtuous deeds.

Straightening a crooked tree
Whenever I hear Venerable Shen-Kai explains that the purpose of learning and practising Buddhism is to eradicate our undesirable habits and self-serving temperament, I think of a lesson that I learned early in my life. I was nine years old at that time and was in the third year of primary school.

On the first day of school after the mid-year break, the discipline master hauled me up to the front of the class for beating up a classmate on the last day of the previous school term. I had chosen the last day of the term to pick a fight with him thinking that all would be forgotten when school resumed. I was wrong!

The discipline master, Mr Hon, came into the classroom and explained why he was here. My name was called. I knew he meant business, for he came with a cane in his hand. I was overwhelmed by fear and at the same time felt embarrassed about the prospects of being caned in front of the class.

He didn't simply whip my buttocks but instead gave us a lecture on what is meant by good behaviour. As he went on I began to sense that he was a reasonable man. My fear and embarrassment gradually dissipated.

Turning to me, Mr Hon ordered me to apologise to the boy, which I did. Then, he said,

"You are a small tree growing crooked. I have to straighten you now or it will be impossible when you become a big tree."

As he spoke, he pointed to the big rain tree outside the classroom. I saw his point and I think everyone else did too.

He continued, "You have to be punished so that you will remember to behave yourself. But I am also going to give you a chance. I am going to use my left hand and give you five strokes on your buttocks. The next time ……."

I didn't hear the rest of what he said. It was not important for I knew that he had let me off the hook. As it turned out, the caning wasn't painful at all, but his words "You are a small tree growing crooked" continue to ring in my ears all these years.

Mr Hon taught me a few things. The first is about giving those who have erred a second chance. The second is to administer a measure of punishment, if need be, that is enough to leave a lasting memory but not quite a lasting pain. The third is not to lose the temper when meting out a punishment. Not once did Mr Hon raise his voice when he came into the class that morning. Last but not least, and the most important of all, nip the problem in the bud - straighten a crooked tree while it is still young.

Now, as a practitioner of Buddhism and having seen the ills of undesirable habits and self-serving temperament and experience the arduous task of dismantling them, I can testify that, indeed, bending a small tree is so much easier! Better still, nip them in the bud before they even take root to become small trees.

Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre