Teachings by Dharma Master Cheng Yen
Translated by Dharma as Water Development Department, Tzu Chi USA
In this world, the values of numbers are hard to express. Are the numbers large or small? Do they represent the same value or not? It is truly hard to say.
For example, under the glass top of my desk, I have three banknotes. One is a banknote from Zimbabwe where the face value is 50 billion, an incredibly large number. Another banknote is 1,000 rupees from Pakistan, and there is another banknote which is ten cents from China. Ten cents and 50 billion dollars are very different numbers, but on the market, they are worth the same and can only be used to buy slightly more than one banana.
When it comes to measuring our lifespan, it is impossible to give a number to its value. Since so many things are hard to measure in life, what kind of numbers will satisfy us? Whatever the number, if we have enough to live on and feed ourselves, we should feel grateful and content. When we exercise our special skills, that is how we bring value to our lives. In life, when we take on responsibility and give of ourselves through service, that is how we create value.
Recently, I have been evaluating the extent to which my life has had value. When people die, in less than a day, the body swells up, begins to decompose, and emits a foul stench. The Buddhist teachings say, “Contemplate the body as impure.” The body is the most impure thing in life. Yet in life, when we start taking issue over things, it is for the sake of the body that we do so.
Let us contemplate, “Who is the self that we call ‘I’?” Because of this body, “I” have this view, “I” have this feeling, “I” have these thoughts, etc. If we want to do something, without a body, we can not do it. Even when we have thoughts, we cannot express them without our bodies. When we do not cherish the privilege to use our body, after causes and conditions pass, we lose both our privilege and our ability to do anything.
Look at this ant in my hand. It was made by a volunteer. The person who delivered it said, “Master, there are five kinds of seeds in this ant. Even the antennae of the ants were made from the seeds.”1 The Sutra of Infinite Meanings says, “One gives rise to infinity, and infinity arises from one.” When seeds are planted, they will sprout. Everything in the world is inconceivable, so we must not take anything lightly, no matter how small or trivial it might seem.
This is just like the saying, “A thick-trunked tree grows from a small seed.” If we want a seed to grow into a big tree, it relies on a moment of thought. The arising of thoughts is something we cannot see, touch, or analyze, but when we dissect and analyze it layer by layer, we understand that everything is empty in nature. In this true emptiness, we can realize wondrous existence. In the same way, the workings of genes are subtle and wondrous. When flowers bloom and the wind blows, these genes, within the seeds and invisible to the naked eye, are spread along with the seeds, which then grow into plants and trees. In this universe, the workings of this force are so powerful; this deserves our reverence and awe.
Thus, we should have respect for nature and be grateful for all things. In our interpersonal relationships, we must practice “gratitude, respect, and love.” In order to achieve unity and harmony in the world, everyone must keep these thoughts in mind, “It is not about others accommodating me; I need to accommodate others.” When people accommodate one another, then there is a sense of joy among everyone. When everyone is happy and in harmony [in presenting their work to me], I will tell them that what they say is in accord with the principles. When everyone shares the same mission and resolve that I have, they come together in unity and follow me in the same direction. As I move forward in the front, people come together to follow.
As we do our volunteer work, it is only by taking action that we will gain “attainment” and “virtues.” “Attainment” refers to the realizations we gain after taking action. When we all take action together, the joy we feel is our own. In this way, everyone will be joyful. When I say something and everyone responds to my call by taking action, this is also “attainment.”
“Virtues” come from kindness; this is the result of our self-cultivation. When we seize time to help other people succeed and when we guard against wrongdoings, these are also ways to attain virtues. We can all experience this virtue. When we all emulate each other’s virtuous behaviors, all of us can win over people’s hearts and increase our strength. With more people and more strength, we can inspire even more people to take on the work of caring for the world.
People of the world must take on the work of caring for the world. Since we live in this world, when disasters happen, we must contribute our strength to support the world so it does not crumble. With our feet steadfast on the ground, we shoulder the weight of the world. As long as we have this aspiration, we will have the strength.
Compiled from Master Cheng Yen’s conversation with Charity Mission staff and volunteers on July 26, 2021, and teachings from the Morning Volunteer Assembly on July 27, 2021
1 Tzu Chi care recipient Mr. Li made 108 ant figurines using seeds. These were brought to the Jing Si Abode by Changhua Tzu Chi volunteer, Zeng Lingzhu.