Teachings in Chinese Buddhism

    (10) Let Go of Your Sorrow

(A reply to Mr. Gao Shi Xiong)

From your letter, I am aware that in the past few years unfavorable environments and homesickness have caused deterioration in your health. This casts a cloud over your future. Fortunately, you have taken refuge in the Triple Gem, and are approaching towards the brightness of the Triple Gem. I believe that under the benevolence of the Triple Gem you will soon be enlightened and consolated.

You mentioned the sufferings that you have been through and wished that you may receive the brightness of the Buddha Dharma. This luminosity is in fact pervading everywhere at all times. It is just waiting for you to accept it. Please use your eyes of wisdom and see the brilliant hope right in front of you! You should understand that these sufferings are not the sorrow of an individual, the disastrous era is the result of common karma.

In China and all over the world, there are many who have escaped from the Iron Curtain and sought freedom. Thousands of them are like you, scattered everywhere, facing many difficulties, separated from their families, losing contact with their parents, and unable to go back to their homes. They are drowning in sorrow and frustration. Both their mind and physical body are seriously tortured. You are not the only one who is suffering. Furthermore, are those still behind the Iron Curtain living in a conducive environment? Can their families be together? Does their health deteriorate due to excessive work and malnutrition? You knew the situation very well, hence you chose to seek freedom. We are suffering in this disastrous era that was created by our common karma and we should not think of ourselves only.

The deterioration of physical health is the result of the unfavourable environment and your anxiousness to see your family. You should not worry about your health only. Instead, you should be concerned about the grief that has arisen due to your unfavourable environment and homesickness. If you keep on worrying about the unfavourable environment and the unreachable home, you are in fact torturing yourself more, and it will be impossible for your health to recover. Your should consider, can your grief and worry help to change your unfavourable environment and reunite your family? Of course it cannot. And in actual fact it will only worsen your health. Therefore it is useless for you to worry. By practising the teachings of the Buddha, we should learn to look from a wider and higher perspective. By understanding and developing faith in the Dharma, we should learn to let go our worthless worries.

It is true that you are facing an unfavourable environment. However, if you do not compare the satisfaction of the past with the dissatisfaction of the present, you will not have so much sufferings! Whatever is in the past has gone, including pleasure and happiness. It is useless for us to cling to it. Clinging to the past (i.e. cravings), is the defilement of all sentient beings. It brings alive past memories and consequently increases our disappointment and grief. It diminishes our effort to confront our difficulties and our enthusiasm to progress.

Why don’t you think in this way: you have freed yourself from the Iron Curtain. In comparison to those who are still behind the Iron Curtain, you are much more fortunate. The homeless and wandering period of the past few years is now over. You have arrived in a free country and settled down with a good job. Your situation is much better than those who are still wandering about as refugees and suffering from the stress of unemployment.

Whatever we are facing now is the result of our past karma and conditional causation. You should learn to feel at ease and find peace under all circumstances. You should make an effort to improve the situation gradually and cultivate more good merits. Poverty in living can be overcome by simplicity. The insecure feelings of personal relationship can be overcome by working hard and being modest. The Buddha Dharma teaches us to live with less desire, to feel content with whatever you have, and to live peacefully in accordance with conditions around us.

There is a saying in the Sutra,

"Whatever treasure and wealth we accumulate,
they will disperse one day.
Whatever high status we struggle for,
t will be lost one day.
Whoever we love - families, relatives and friends,
they will leave us one day.
Whenever there is a birth, 
there will be a death."

This is well known as the Four Impermanent Gathas. It can serve as a ringing statement for your homesickness. You should know that there is no family property that will never disperse, there is no family which will never separate. It is just a matter of time. If one has planted good karma in the past, it is possible to start a business from scratch when the conditions are right. Otherwise, it may be difficult for someone even to maintain the family property. Our worldly properties can be snatched and possessed by five external factors, they are: flood, fire, thieves, despots and prodigal sons. For those who are still living behind the Iron Curtain, their properties are in fact being confiscated by the Communists. Their experience could be worse than what you have suffered now.

With regard to families, if the conditions are not fulfilled, even if you live in your hometown, you will still experience the sufferings of separation and death of family members. On the other hand, if the conditions are right, there will always be a time for reunion. You are now thinking day and night about your parents, your wife and your children. Are you wondering how their lives are? Are they healthy? Are they still alive? These worries bring you sleepless nights. As Buddha said,

"Whenever craving arises, suffering arises"

It is common to worry about one’s family. However, in this disastrous era, you should be independent and make an effort to plan for something more beneficial. You should not immerse yourself in great grief only. Your family would not be glad if they knew that you were so sick and depressed because of your worries. When there is a family reunion, they will be very upset and this will lead to more suffering in the future. From now on, you should think more positively, and not worry too much. Anxiety and worries can never solve your problems. You should let go of your sorrows. This does not imply heartlessness, but it is to free yourself from being deluded by the sentiment of love.

The main cause of your suffering is the attachment to the individual family. The very first concept in learning the Dharma is to learn to have a wider capacity for tolerance an d have less attachment to self. Since all sentient beings are subject to continual rebirth, on and on through beginningless and endless time, hundreds and millions of people in this land can be your parents, wives, brothers and sisters from many past lives. Why don’t you direct your love to them? All the compatriots who are still trapped behind the Iron Curtain can also be your parents, wives, brothers and sisters from your many past lives, why don’t you worry and feel sad for them? It is because you are living under such a narrow scope that causes so many sorrowful thoughts to arise in your mind. This is not only of no benefit to the others, it also causes harm to yourself. How silly this is! Don’t you remember a saying of Confucius,

"One ought to take care of one’s own aged parents first and then to extend the same care to other aged people in general;
One ought to take care of one’s own young children first and then extend the same care to other young people in general."

Buddhism extends this love to all sentient beings. This is the initiation of loving kindness and compassion in Buddhism. It will help you to extricate yourself from the attachment to individual love. The remaining question is how can one be kind and caring to one’s compatriots? How can one help them? Please do not say that you do not have any strength to do so! Everyone has certain strengths even though it may differ from one to another. You should try your best. First of all, you should fulfil your own responsibilities, then you may make use of your responsibilities time and energy to contribute something beneficial to the others and the country. No matter how little each and every effort is, they are all invaluable meritorious acts. If everyone can contribute a little, our efforts will accumulate and become a strong power and finally be able to confront with any tyrannical and evil deed. The suffering due to the common karma can only be changed by group effort. This is the way to solve the problems lingering in your mind. If you do not see things from this perspective and continue to immerse yourself in deep grief everyday, your situation will never change. If your health deteriorates because of this, even the Buddha and Bodhisattva cannot help you. In Buddhism, we solve problems through the understanding of the Law of Cause and Effect. This is different from the fanatical religions that believe everything can be changed unconditionally out of the will of a God.

The distracting thoughts of unfavorable environment and home-sickness may be bothering you persistently and it is hard to get rid of them. Buddhism teaches us to transform sentiment to wisdom. If you can be determined, and contemplate thoroughly about the truth, these worthless worries and grief will fade away and you will regain a healthy life. During this process of transformation, there are two daily practices that may assist you in transforming delusion to purity.

1. Making a frank confession of one’s mistakes (s. desana) and sincerely asking for pardon (s. ksana): Although this disastrous era is the result of our common karma, it so happens that you were born at this time. In certain ways, you may have a stronger feeling of grief than the others, this is due to your individual past and present karma. Your present suffering is the result of the ripening of this karma. Therefore, you should make a frank confession of whatever unwholesome karma you have done (s. desana) and sincerely ask for pardon (s. ksana) before the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas every morning and night (If you have no Buddha statue, try to visualize that the Buddha and Bodhisattvas are around you). A sincere repentance and confession that is full of faith, determination and sincerity, will strengthen your will to progress towards a new life. You will be able to free your mind from the old patterns of thinking and restlessness. When unwholesome thoughts arise, you will be able to detect and discard them immediately.

2. Reciting the names of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas: Reciting the names of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas with a pure mind can help you to discard and stop the distracting thoughts. Your mind will be pure and peaceful. You will not only free yourself from grief and worries, but you will also sense the strong vibrations rippling throughout the Universe, emanating from the ardent will, power and virtues of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. When your mind is pure, you will sense the luminosity around you and you will be filled with joy. Correspondingly, your emotions and health will improve.

In conclusion, grief and anxiety arise from our ignorance and they are unworthy. The aspiration to practise the teachings of the Buddha should be to benefit all sentient beings who are in suffering. It should not be constrained to the benefit of oneself only.

May the brightness of the Buddha Dharma be on you,
May you be filled with the joys of Buddha Dharma.

(Translated by Wai Sim Loh & Boon Wee Low, edited by Ke Rong, proofread by Shi Neng Rong. (12-10-96)

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