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Minor things come first


Coming to burn joss sticks in temples, many people seek position and wealth. But what is the cause of power and money? Some may say it is the help from somebody of great virtue, others that it comes from a Bodhisattva’s blessing. As a matter of fact, these people saying so always see only the partial result of what happened, rather than the original cause.

Mencius said,” When Heaven is about to confer a great office on a man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and builds up his competence.” This means that only through all kinds of difficulties and challenges, being tempered both physically and spiritually, can one’s competence be improved well enough for the “great office conferred by Heaven”. The so-called “help from somebody of great virtue or Bodhisattva’s blessing” is actually “the help from Heaven for those who help themselves.”     

For example, in a work unit, the leader may assign trivial clerical tasks to new graduates from college. Those seeking quick promotion tend to show no interest in doing them, while those with steady natures will complete them, one by one. As time passes, the former, being self-interested and conceited, will repeatedly change jobs and feel lost again and again, while the latter will advance methodically with whatever burdens on their shoulders, winning the appreciation of the leader, respect from colleagues, and the reward of better opportunities for development. In real life, many people have grown to be leaders and experts in their respective fields with higher business skills and greater capabilities acquired little-by-little, in the normal process of periodic job rotation, increasing burdens and changing roles.                            

The key difference between a Buddhist and a secular person in any thought or action lies in “motives”. (The word “motive” is not used in Buddhism, but, rather, “aspiration.”) The secular person’s motive tends to be “seeking position and wealth”, while the Buddhist always inspires his Bodhi mind (Bodhicitta) by doing things to benefit or help others. So, first of all, as Buddhists, we need to learn to do well in various roles, such as engineer, teacher, surgeon, businessman or scholar. As long as we aspire to take on different roles, we will grow in them, becoming capable of building relations with different people: an engineer growing in the field of architecture, a network administrator growing in computer science, a calligrapher and painter growing in the arts, and so on.                 

On the other hand, in the secular world, a person is trained to produce more benefits or get more clients for the enterprise. With a different intent, the monastery fosters the person’s aspirations to benefit sentient beings, instead of focusing on the person’s ability to accomplish a given task or attract more pilgrims. Such “aspirations” are kindled in three key areas: First, serve the masses; second, consider from the perspective of others; and third, teamwork.     

At first, the desire to serve the masses must be encouraged, and, only in so doing, can we truly grow, overcoming our own weaknesses and surpassing ourselves. Next, we learn to consider the world and reality from the perspective of others, which requires us to learn how to associate with others and find out their needs. A person who is incapable of caring for or associating with others will not succeed in anything; as the saying goes, “he who finds the proper course has many to assist him; he who loses the proper course has few.” The third necessary lesson to learn is building teamwork. The first two points relate to the individual’s progress, while building teamwork stresses the communal spirit. In a team, the most important thing for an individual is compromise. The individual’s growth must fit the team’s needs, the attitude behind “I want to do something” transformed into “I am needed to do something.” This transformation can be epitomized by a drop of water that will never dry up as long as it can merge into the sea.  

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Published on Life Times. Written by Ven. Master Xuecheng, and translated by Beijing Longquan Monastery Translation Center.
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