Families in the Tzu Chi Great Love Village in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, maintain lovely gardens and yards. Photo by Lin Yan-Huang
In May 2009, the government of Sri Lanka announced victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The announcement ended the civil war between the rebels and the government that had lasted for 25 years.
Sri Lanka has for centuries been known for its rich ability to produce rice, earning it the nickname of “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean.” Sadly, the civil war exacted a heavy toll on the island nation. Tens of thousands of people died and hundreds of thousands more were forced from their homes. Moreover, the instability from the civil war caused people to lose the drive to work hard; with an uncertain future, they felt that at any moment everything they had could be destroyed. As a result, farmlands were left idle and the nation’s economy suffered tremendously. Although the civil war is now over, the road to recovery for those who have lost family members or their homes will be slow and arduous.
Why do such wars come about? At the bottom of it all is human greed. A lust for political and economic power and influence leads a small minority of individuals to wage war on others, which in turn kills countless innocents and spoils the wealth and productivity of a nation. Just look at the frightening consequences that ensue when people have unwholesome thoughts.
Yet, if people have wholesome thoughts, they can do a lot of good and bring happiness and peace to the world. On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami hit Sri Lanka with a force unparalleled in recorded history, claiming over 30,000 lives within just a few minutes. Tzu Chi volunteers mobilized and responded quickly, flying to Sri Lanka and helping survivors in heavily damaged Hambantota City. They provided free clinics for the injured, built a school and a Great Love Village for people who had lost their homes, and helped survivors to gradually heal from the disaster. Through their acts of love, they also inspired local people to treat others with love. In this way, seeds of love started to be sown.
Today, the Great Love Village is thriving. The families in the village keep their living environment clean and beautiful by working together for their community, recycling, and maintaining lovely gardens and yards. The beauty of the community extends beyond the physical to the spiritual environment. Through mutual respect and understanding, even followers of different religions live together peacefully and harmoniously in the village.
The neat and wonderful living conditions in the Great Love Village make manifest thoughts of goodness and love. Similarly, I believe the world could be a better place to live if more people nurture wholesome thoughts.
Looking after our minds
The state of California in the United States is dubbed the Golden State. The beautiful name gives people the impression that California is a place full of golden opportunities to get rich. Countless individuals from around the world have moved to California over the years to pursue the American dream.
However, after they arrived in California, many immigrants discovered that the “Golden State” was not exactly what they had dreamed. Currently, the state’s financial woes and high unemployment rate make it hard to find a job. Without formal employment, many are unable to afford their apartments and homes and have been forced to live on the streets. We can only imagine how difficult their lives are and how helpless they must have felt when they fell ill since they have no insurance to cover their medical costs. Their dream of a better life has turned into a nightmare.
I once heard a story of a young fashion designer in California who was injured when he accidentally tripped and fell. He was hospitalized for three months, during which he used up almost all of his savings. He couldn’t afford his rent after being discharged from the hospital, so he had to move to a tent city for the homeless. So destitute was he that he even had to use superglue to fix his dentures when they broke; proper dental treatment was just too much for him to afford.
Fortunately, medical volunteers from the U.S. chapter of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association routinely drive a dental van to the tent area to provide the homeless with free dental care and daily necessities. They were able to help this young man.
As a matter of fact, Tzu Chi medical volunteers in California have been performing free dental treatments for years. Moved by our volunteers’ long-term devotion and sincere love, some of the homeless receiving this care have started to save up a coin or two each day, in order to accumulate money to help others—in much the same way that Tzu Chi started its charitable activities over 40 years ago, with 30 housewives saving 50 cents of their grocery money every day. Though these care recipients are homeless, they still want to contribute. Such is the joy of helping others.
In life, do we live in a heaven or hell? It all depends on what thoughts are in our minds. If we are willing to help others, we will be bodhisattvas. Then, even if our living conditions are unfavorable, spiritually we will be in a Pure Land. But if our minds are full of greed and insatiable desires, life can become a nightmare.
Looking after our minds is therefore very important. We must abide by the precepts. Then, we may develop moral discipline, samadhi (an internal state of imperturbability or tranquility), and wisdom, and be able to motivate more people to do good together. Only when we do good will blessings abound. If, however, our minds are swayed by greed, we shall go astray and life will become full of suffering.
Everyone is a sutra to learn from
In life, there are many forms of suffering. Some people suffer from poverty or disasters, while others suffer as a result of their own illusions and deluded thinking. If someone is willing to reach out to help these people, however, they not only can have a better life but can even go on to help others. In this way, they can inspire even more people, and more people’s hearts will be purified.
A perfect example of this phenomenon is the story of Johny, a Tzu Chi volunteer in Indonesia. Although his family was well-off, he became addicted to gambling. He lost almost everything he owned as a result. At his lowest point, he had only 200,000 rupiahs (US$20) in his bank account. His gambling addiction created a host of other problems as well. He lost his temper easily with his wife and children, and they tried their best to just stay away from him.
One day he happened to see a drama on Tzu Chi’s Da Ai TV. The program was about the wife of a school principal in Taiwan. She too led a very good life, but like Johny she was addicted to gambling. She was so addicted that she refused to leave the mahjong table even when she was told that her house was on fire. After she joined Tzu Chi and started to visit impoverished care recipients, she finally realized how blessed she was. This gave her the impetus and strength to quit gambling for good.
The story of the principal’s wife struck a chord in Johny. He reflected on his past actions and made up his mind to quit gambling. In May 2008 he began going with Tzu Chi volunteers to the homes of care recipients. One of the people they visited, Budianto, aged 67, inspired Johny to turn his life around.
Five years ago, a mole fell off Budianto’s face, leaving a tiny wound behind. He applied various ointments to the sore, but it never healed. In fact, it grew bigger and bigger. Eventually, he had to go to a hospital to seek treatment. The doctor said it was his diabetes that made healing so difficult. Despite the doctor’s treatment, Budianto’s condition persisted; his wound became worse and began to bleed, and the pain only increased. His nose, cheeks, and lips festered so badly that his gums were exposed. Because of his appearance, he dared not venture out in public. Eventually, he was referred to Tzu Chi for help.
Johny was shocked to see Budianto’s face when he first visited him. He and other volunteers took the poor man to a Tzu Chi clinic in a Tzu Chi Great Love Village for a checkup. The doctor at the clinic recommended that Budianto have a more thorough checkup at a large hospital, so Johny and the others accompanied him to Cipto Mangunkusumo Central Hospital in Jakarta. There, Budianto was diagnosed with cancer.
At one point, Budianto refused to go back to the hospital for further treatment. However, with the Tzu Chi volunteers’ sincere concern and continued encouragement, he later decided to return and continue with his cancer treatments. Johny often kept him company during these treatments. Even though Budianto’s wounds smelled, Johny didn’t mind a bit. In fact, he learned to be grateful for having good health. Furthermore, he vowed to make the most of himself to do good and help others. He said that the joy he gained from helping people was even greater than winning money at gambling.
It is not easy to wake up from delusion and turn over a new leaf. In Johny’s case, it was the true-life dramas on Da Ai TV that first awakened the goodness in his heart. Then he began to get involved in volunteer work. Through helping people in need, he witnessed the suffering that others went through. These experiences transformed him and inspired him to dedicate himself to helping others. In this process, while the people in need receive help, in helping, his eyes are opened and he grows spiritually. The people in need provide him with an opportunity to nurture his wisdom-life. Thus, instead of there being a “giver” and “receiver,” both receive and are helping one another.
All around us, every person is a living sutra, so there are living sutras everywhere for us to learn. It doesn’t matter if a person is rich or poor, how high or low he is on the social ladder, or what his nationality or race is. When we mindfully enter into others’ lives and hear their life stories, we will find precious essays on the truths of life. Therefore, thanks to them, our eyes are opened to many of life’s truths. That is why when Tzu Chi volunteers help others, they always feel sincere gratitude to those they help.
Da Ai TV is like a stream of pure water that can cleanse people’s hearts and minds. The more people that come in contact with Da Ai TV, the greater the chance that more people will open their eyes to life’s truths and purify their hearts. To enable such a cleansing stream to never stop flowing, we must go to the source—that is, to discover and tap into the wellspring of purity within each person’s heart. As more wellsprings are tapped into, more water will flow forth. Only when there is an abundance of water flowing forth will it be possible to cleanse the hearts of all, around the globe.
Understanding the karma we create
One day in a market, the Buddha saw a fish vendor whose faced was etched with sorrow and pain. The Buddha approached him and asked him what was wrong.
The old man began to tell the Buddha his story. In the past, his son would go out to sea to catch fish, and then he would come back and sell the fish. However, his son recently drowned on such a trip. To make ends meet, the old man had to start catching and selling fish by himself again. His son’s death brought him tremendous grief, but he also felt miserable at having to work again in his old age.
While the old man was telling his story of pain and suffering, he was completely blind to the suffering of the fish struggling for life in his buckets. The man grieved over the death of his son, but he was insensitive to the agony of the fish in the bucket. Such is the delusion of living beings, the Buddha later pointed out to his disciples.
We must not be like the old man in the story. All that happens in our world is deeply connected to the activities of human beings. If we wish to live in peace and security, we must protect the world around us. We must not selfishly think only of ourselves, without a care for how our actions are damaging the environment.
In an effort to appeal to all nations to protect the earth and cut down on pollution, the United Nations held its Conference on the Human Environment in June 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden. Participants at the conference passed the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and designated June 5 as World Environment Day.
Over 30 years have since passed, and yet many people still do not comprehend the importance of protecting our environment and conserving our natural resources. Many continue to exploit and pollute the land. As a result, the world is facing acute problems such as food and water shortages. It is very worrisome.
Indeed, though the eastern part of Taiwan is noted for producing high quality rice, this year some rice farmers in Hualien experienced rice sterility. At the end of the rainy season, when it was time for crops to form grains, farmers found that there were no kernels inside the husks—the rice grains were empty. A whole season of hard toil had come to nothing for these farmers.
For there to be a good harvest, apart from the hard work of the farmers, the environment and the climate must be favorable too. The soil must be fertile, the climate patterns must be in balance, and the amount of sun and water must be just right. Only when all required conditions are met—a favorable climate, fertile land, and people’s hard work—will there be a good harvest. If the environment is polluted or if the climatic conditions are erratic, then no matter how hard farmers toil, rice will not grow abundantly and properly.
Erratic global climate and a fall in world food production are a result of the damages that human beings have collectively inflicted on the Earth. Such is the collective karma that we have created. How can such bad collective karma be turned around? By changing people’s mindsets, for it is only when we do good and refrain from unwholesome actions that we can create good karma and keep disasters at bay.
I’m very grateful to our Tzu Chi recycling volunteers because they demonstrate this every day. For many years, they have protected the Earth by collecting recyclables and reclaiming resources. They are truly guardians of the Earth. They not only cherish all material things and lead an eco-friendly life, but they also seize every moment to collect and sort out recyclables. Although the price of recyclables has dropped due to the economic downturn, their dedication to recycling and their love for the world has not abated.
Our recycling volunteers give of themselves without seeking anything in return. All they hope for is that the planet will become healthier, that people will learn to cherish blessings, and that society will become more aware of the importance of environmental protection.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first publication of Jing Si Aphorisms. I am grateful to everyone who has taken the aphorisms to heart. As people mindfully ponder these aphorisms taken from my teachings, they nurture good thoughts and do good deeds, thus creating a healthy and beautiful life.
Language serves as a bridge, enabling us to communicate with one another and exchange our innermost thoughts and feelings. Jing Si aphorisms are but simple phrases, but if one can resonate with their message, they can give inspiration. Indeed, if one can understand the aphorism, appreciate its meaning, and moreover apply it in one’s everyday life, the aphorism becomes a wonderful teaching that can greatly benefit one’s life. But, if one cannot resonate with its message, it is but words on paper which, after being read, are quickly forgotten and leave no lasting impact.
I am very grateful to all those who have drawn inspiration from these aphorisms, apply them in their lives, and furthermore share them with others. Not only do they make use of these aphorisms themselves, but they also pass them on to help others. They are truly doing a meritorious thing.
With permission from shop owners, Tzu Chi volunteers paste up printed posters of these aphorisms on shop walls. With sincere hearts, they visit every shop and ask for permission to put up the posters. Each saying conveys a message of goodness, and each carefully made poster beautifies the environment. If everyone who reads them takes the teachings to heart and practices them in their lives, then the world will be filled with goodness, beauty and truth.
Let us be ever more mindful!
Translated by Teresa Chang and Jing Si Abode Translation Team