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Volume 7 no 3

It’s a Blissful Life …Encounters of Buddhism in life by Jen Chen Buddhism practitioners
Lemon tree
The fear of being taken advantage of should one be too kind or compassionate often deter people from doing what they already know are good deeds. If kindness or compassion is not demonstrated through deeds, then how does one call them as such? The article Lemon Tree elaborates. The Joy of Living illustrates that the freedom of the mind from stress and anxiety, and the true joy of living stem from a virtuous mental culture and not from external means. Practising what the Buddha taught, of course, can attain the ultimate freedom of the mind.
In the small garden that I am fortunate to have, I have planted as many tropical fruit trees as space allow. I thought it is a good idea for my children to have a taste of the environment that I enjoyed so much in my own childhood – the greenery and the birds. We have a small variety of fruit trees such as rambutan, durian, papaya, guava and soursop, and a variety of tropical flowers.

One day, I decided to plant a lemon tree and as it turned out, it was to be planted by the side of the pavement just outside the gate. My neighbour from across the road who saw what I was doing did not think it was a good idea because in time to come, the fruits will be free for others to pick. I had thought of that too, but I did not tell her that that was exactly what I did with my neighbour’s lemons when I was a boy. And it was the thought of the refreshing lemonade squeezed from those lemons that I decided to add a lemon tree to my little orchard.

Some time later, while I was picking a bedside story for my children I came across this story:

Once, there were two brothers. One was a farmer and the other who lived in the town, was an avid gardener. In his garden he had planted neat rows of apple and orange trees which bore juicy fruits. One day the farmer visited his brother in town and was impressed with his brother’s fruit trees. His brother promised him his best apple tree so that he and his children could have apples of their own. Soon after, he arranged for it to be dug up and transported it to his farmer brother.

The farmer was very happy, but he was in a fix as to where it should be planted. He thought of a particular location in his farmland where the ground was fertile and would be most suitable for the apple tree. But, it was not sheltered from the wind and he was concerned that the fruits might be blown off before they were due for picking. Next, he thought of planting it by the side of the footpath that led to the stream. Not a good idea, he thought. The passer-bys would help themselves to the apples. The front of his house is not bad either, but he was worried of his children helping themselves to the fruits. Finally, he found a safe place - behind the barn and out of sight of the children and other would-be pilferers.

It did not bear any fruit in the first year, and when the third year came and went, and still there were no apples, he thought he had been duped. He confronted his brother who promised to investigate. When he saw that it was planted behind the barn, he was not surprised what had happened. It was in the shadow of the barn most of the day and the wind was too cold. It would be a wonder if it fruits at all!

As my neighbour and the story would attest, the fear of losing out, of being taken advantage of, must have troubled people since the beginning of time. Sometimes to the extent that people restrain their kindness because “people will take advantage of us if we are too kind”. I wonder if true kindness can really be restrained. Ironically, like the farmer in the story, it is through such restraints that people lose out and not by their kindness, compassion or generosity. I don’t think that particular neighbour of my childhood days was worried about people picking his lemons, for it was planted next to a footpath which folks used all the time. As far as my memory serves me, there was always an abundance of lemons on the tree.

Kindness, compassion and generosity are cornerstones of Buddhism. All people have them, but they serve no purpose if we are stingy with them. That they have tangible returns is not an end in itself. The real returns are intangible, such as unfolding our wisdom, enlightenment and liberation


Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre