May. Benevolence Flow Like Water

The Highest Form of Benevolence Flows Like Water

I recently completed a temple pilgrimage in Taiwan and was deeply inspired by the artistry of this calligraphy by Master Master Hsing Yun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Lineage and have been contemplating its deeper meaning The Highest Form of Benevolence Flows Like Water.

One of the largest Buddhist organizations in Taiwan is Tzu Chi. Led by its founding nun, Master Cheng Yen, the nun’s community and thousands of lay members, now rivals the International Red Cross the size and scope of service. While much of their work is focused on disaster relief, their diverse activitiesinclude hospitals and specialized responses to smaller events. Master Cheng Yen’s vision is to respond to the world with a heart of benevolence flowing like water to wherever it is needed.  Through exemplifying this conduct with a rare purity, a vast network arose to amplify her work.

The story began so humbly, five nuns in a tiny cabin determined to build a life only giving to others. They invited 30 housewives to save fifty cents from their food shopping and drop it in bamboo banks which they made form a grove nearby, sawing the stalks at the joints. With the slogan “50 cents can save lives”, and the aspiration of kindness formed with each deposit, funding small acts grew into an international community of response. Every suffering being who found their way to the cabin elicited heartfelt caring which grew exponentially.

Gradually the work of the nuns flowed into every dimension of experience. An example was a local explosion that injured 500 children. They started visiting the burn victims and found that the compression bandages used were inadequate. So, they invented new fabric, continuing to visit the patients weekly, offering comfort and assessing the fabric. After testing several versions, the new fabric is now useful for all burn victims. The tenderness extended towards cries for help also extends to how the solutions arise; the

environment and all the volunteers who implement the vision. For instance, hospitals; how do you create an environment of compassion? In the photo we see volunteers setting an intention of kindness before starting work. New medical students are met with volunteer “godparents” to lovingly encourage them throughout their studies. Their training begins with an extraordinary experience of appreciation that opens their hearts. The education of a doctor begins with anatomy and dissection. In this program they visit the families of the donors of the bodies and write a biography of their first teacher, the body given for dissection. Then before the start the study, a wonderful ceremony thanking the families and giving them a chance to say goodbye and honor the choice of their loved one is held at the hospital. There are prayers of gratitude to the donor by the students and a full ritual funeral attended by the whole monastery, students and families at the conclusion. The students are taught that their knowledge comes from a treasured gift and their work must honor its value. These doctors grow in understanding the role of compassion in their work.

The wonderful call and response of need and compassionate action; flowing so powerfully in the course of one lifetime is a joy to witness. The five nuns were joined by hundreds of thousands of lay volunteers and funds to cover the world, who are now often first on the ground in places like Fukushima and even in Texas after the disastrous tornados. The essence of compassion is ever-present in how they work.

I come away with a new understanding of seamless benevolence enabling boundless compassion. May benevolence flow in and from our lives like water.

Buddha’s Family

Lha Bab Duchen

Lha Bab Duchen falls on Nov 19th this year. One of the four major Tibetan Buddhist holidays, it marks the time Buddha went to the Tushita Heaven to teach his mother and then returns to his Sangha in our realm. Our special holidays honor Buddha’s birth, first teaching, Enlightenment, the miracles he displayed, his death and this journey to take spiritual care of his mother who had died giving birth to him.

Often when we tell the life story of the Buddha we begin with Buddha/Siddhartha leaving his family, just after his child was born, to find enlightenment.  As westerners, we hear this story through the lens of our culture and conflate it with the classic “hero’s journey” or suspect the abandonment as lacking in compassion.  Lha Bab Duchen more normally depicts Buddhas return to our realm after teaching his mother in the Tushita heaven realm. On Lha Bab Duchen, we can contemplate Buddha’s family story in a way that illuminates inclusion.

As we delve deeper into Buddha’s life, we see that it also includes his aunt, Mahaprajnapati, his wife Yasodhara, and the Naga Princess, a being from a water realm. All three attained enlightenment, and they represent the realities of many women’s lives.  Yasodhara, his wife, knowingly supported the unique conditions that allowed Siddhartha to achieve his potential, enlightenment, understanding the benefit for all beings. Mahaprajnapati, his aunt, raised Prince Siddhartha as a child (before he became the Buddha) and accepted the responsibility of ruling the country as queen after her husband died. She accepted a life of responsibility due to compassion. Completing worldly responsibilities, Mahaprajapati became the first nun and Yasodhara followed her. They became enlightened practicing within the nun’s community.

Finally, the Naga Princess can further demonstrate the holiness within “other” or
outsider. People of many clans and tribes joined the monastic community.  The Naga Princess was of another race of beings. Said to be his best student, she was an eight-year-old child of the dragon people, depicted as half dragon half human.  She defied all norms by demonstrating publicly and fearlessly, her profound understanding of the Dharma. When challenged to become a man in order to receive enlightenment she switched gender and then she switched back. What is gender she asked the assembly, thus destroying their ignorance.

All these women became enlightened, equal in spiritual understanding. The subtle teaching of this holiday is non dual understanding of spiritual capacity among genders and differences. There is no lesser Enlightenment, there is realization and nonrealization.

When we acknowledge the inherent holiness within all beings, we see that we are all included in Buddha’s story. This makes a difference in how we see ourselves and others. We are all the hero journeying in our own unique way towards recognizing our inner perfection and we are at the same time interconnected.