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Volume 7 no 3

Voice of Bliss

Of compassion and charity

Compassion and charity are two cornerstones in the teachings of Buddhism. However, practitioners may sometimes find themselves in situations that are seemingly not conducive to these practices. In reality when we understand how the past, present and future are connected, and the true spirit of aspiring to becoming a better person, then all situations are conducive. Venerable Shen-Kai explains …

Buddhism teaches us to be compassionate, but do we have to be compassionate towards our enemies too?

Enmity and close relations are equal.

The compassion of Buddhism is absolute. It is the unconditional giving of happiness and extricating of misery, regardless of whether or not there are positive conditions between the two parties. This is called “Giving happiness without condition; extricating misery as if they are our own.”

Let me tell you a story from the Sutra:

In one of Sakyamuni Buddha’s past lives, he was the king of the second level heaven (Tavatimsa). One day, with his deva-eyes he saw that one of his good friends of a past life has been reborn and become the wife of a businessman. She was holding a little boy in her arms, and standing beside her was another child who was playing with a drum. Just then, her neighbour whose father was ill, was slaughtering a cow to be offered to the deities, hoping to be blessed and that his father be healed. There was another woman who was carrying a small boy for a walk and they were passing by her house. Just then, the boy who was holding a sharp blade cut his mother’s face. The mother was hurt. However, not only was she not angry, she did not scold him either. On the contrary, she seemed happy.

Seeing the situation, the king who wanted to save and guide this friend of his, descended from the heaven. To create the opportunity to save her, he appeared as a businessman on the pretext of negotiating a business deal with her. He put on a broad, though secretive, smile for her and her neighbours, and said, “I am your friend, don’t you remember me?”

The woman was offended by his audacity. She was angry. The businessman (king) could only sigh and thought, “Sentient beings are blinded by illusion and have become so forgetful.”

He said, “Friend! If my smile had been cynical it is because I feel that you, your children and your neighbours, are all very pitiful! You have completely forgotten the events that took place just one lifetime ago. Let me relate them to you now.

The boy whom you are holding in your arms now, he was your father in his past life. This child who is playing with the drum, due to his evil karma, was born a cow in his past life. After it was slaughtered, the hide was used to make drums. His life as a cow was ended, and his dues as a retribution was completely repaid. He was then reborn as a human being. The drum that he is now holding was in fact made from the hide of his past life. He is playing happily with the drum and he has completely forgotten the suffering of his past life as a cow. It is indeed regrettable!

Your neighbour who slaughtered the cow as an offering to the deities to bless his father to quickly recover from his illness doesn’t know that the taking of a life in hope of extending another is a most ill-omened deed! He has created a hostile condition with the cow and planted an evil root. Thus as the cow die, so shall his father. In their future lives they shall swap places to suffer the same fate.

The boy, held by the woman whose face was cut by the sharp blade, was actually the mistress of the woman’s husband. Because the woman was very jealous, she often tortured the mistress who eventually died at her hands. She was engulfed with the hatred for the woman and vowed revenge. Thus, she was reborn as the woman’s child to seek his revenge. That is why she was not perturbed by what the son had done.

You and I were good friends in our past lives. Because human beings are lacking in wisdom, that although it is merely one lifetime ago, they do not recognise each other anymore. What more to say of the aeons of our many past lives! I hope you will learn and practise Buddhism, and cultivate zealously in order to be liberated. Otherwise, we are led by our karma to transmigrate in the 6 realms (heaven, human, asura, animal, hell and ghosts). This is real suffering. I hope you will conduct yourself well.”

Thereafter, he disappeared and returned to his palace in the heaven.

From this story, we learn that sentient beings are led by their karma to transmigrate in the six realms. In a past life people could be enemies and in another they can be intimately related. Yet, they seek vengeance, lifetime after lifetime in transmigration without end! Therefore practitioners of Buddhism need to understand that whatever we have to bear with in life are the consequence of our karma. Therefore, we need to learn and practise what the Buddha taught, “Face and accept all encounters arising from our past karma’s gracefully and stop committing new evil deeds.” Regardless of who we have to co-exist with, the relationship must be based on virtuous intentions, with sincerity and not at another’s expense. Even if enemies come face to face, it is due to one party having owed or wronged the other party in their past lives. Therefore, when we understand the law of cause and effect, we have to repent, correct ourselves and be accommodating. We should not wilfully cause anger and hatred to arise. We need to understand that the three poisons – greed, anger and ignorance, are the roots of our sufferings. In particular, anger and the mind of hatred are the most frightening, and therefore it is stated in the sutra, “One thought of anger opens a million doors of hindrances.” This is because once the thought of anger and evil arise, people lose their senses and commit all kinds of evil deeds. Therefore practitioners of Buddhism need to cultivate their compassion and eliminate their anger and hatred mind. It is in this way that we transform negative conditions into positive conditions. We will inspire our compassionate mind to a higher level, when we understand that indeed “enmity and close relations are equal”.

I would like to give, but I don’t have money. May I pray to the Buddha to help me win the first prize in the lottery?

A smile is also giving.

The scope of giving is actually very broad. For instance, a smile is also a form of giving. On the other hand, if you always put forth a stern face and never smile to the people around you, how then can those people perceive you to be a nice person? If, for example, a crime has been committed elsewhere and investigations led the police to your neigbhourhood, people may suspect that you have a problem because of what they see in your face. You see what risk people can run into when they do not give, even in terms of a smile!

There is no need to think of winning the lottery in order to give. Wouldn’t you feel disappointed if you didn’t win? There are many ways to practise giving. For instance, when you see someone having difficulty getting up a bus, and you went over to give a helping hand; that is also giving. It is the giving of strength. If a person does not have anything to eat and you offer him a bowl of rice. That is giving and it doesn’t necessarily involve a lot of money. If a person is in need of consolation, isn’t it very good that you make him very happy with your caring words? If a person is in difficulty and you encourage him, this is also giving. There are many simple ways to practise giving. There is no need to wait until you have a windfall before you can practise giving. If a person who has never performed any giving whatsoever really strikes the lottery, and becomes so overwhelmed by his joy and dies suddenly, then whatever giving that he has in mind cannot be realized.

This was exactly what happened to a man in Taiwan. He had wanted to give but had no money. He promised to do so if he wins the lottery. One day, this man really won a million dollars in a lottery. At that time, a million dollars was a huge sum and he didn’t know what to do with it. He was confused, yet he didn’t think of donating some of the money to old people’s homes, orphanages or any other charitable organizations that needed financial support. Whenever he felt like it, he would invite his friends to drinking sessions and gave his money to the bars and the female companions. When he gives in this way, he destroys the bliss of his family. This man was very pitiful, in less than half a year he became ill and died from his illness and all his money was gone.

Therefore, we need to understand the true principle of giving. It is giving only when we give to people who are really in need. Besides, giving should be practised within our means. Let’s not think about winning a lottery as the condition for giving. The phenomenon of “impermanence” may strike us at anytime and even if a person wins the lottery, he cannot be certain about his life. Therefore, we need to understand the meaning of giving, and give within our means when the opportunities arise.

Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre