The Pandemic, the War, and Repenting

National Headquarters  |  June 27, 2022

Teachings by Dharma Master Cheng Yen
Translated by Dharma as Water Development Department, Tzu Chi USA

It can feel quite stuffy to wear a mask every day! But in fact, the pressure on my mind is even more stifling than the stuffy air. Whenever I am able to remove my mask, I feel blessed, since I have the chance to be alone in a space to remove my mask and breathe freely. However, the pressure on my mind continues day and night, and there is no space for me to feel at ease.

In the Lotus Sutra, there is the parable of the burning house of the Three Realms. In the world right now, fires in many countries are caused by imbalances in nature. There are also man-made flames of war ignited by ignorance. All of these different kinds of fires lead to disasters!

As we all live on the same Earth, we see natural disasters continue to happen, like forest fires that continue to burn. We have been hearing about these natural disasters often and for a long time, and having the sense that the Earth is so big, we get used to hearing about them and think that these occurrences are normal.

Humans are insignificant compared to the vast Earth, but we are very self-centered. In our minds, we may think, “The disasters that happen in another place have nothing to do with me.” This is the mindset of deluded and unenlightened ordinary beings, and an example of how people can be self-centered and greedy. When it comes to the things we want or love, such as fame, people, objects, an environment, and so on, we want to take possession of them. But in fact, when we extend our arms, how much can we hold? Even if we have our arms full of things, are we satisfied? No! Our eyes see more things and we become greedy. We cannot let go of what we have, and we want even more.

When we are never satisfied with what we have, life is truly miserable! We see many people fighting for and taking things. They create karma out of greed, anger, and ignorance, fighting and killing each other, which leads to manmade calamities. The flames of war rage, and the infrastructure on land is destroyed in an instant. Happy families are instantly reduced to widows and orphans. Seeing how loved ones are separated in life or by death, I feel completely heartbroken.

On the news, I saw a young Ukrainian woman send a cute little girl onto a train. Perhaps this young woman was the girl’s mother or sister. She touched the window with her finger. Was she hoping to touch the little girl’s cheek? She could not, as they were separated by the glass. The train was about to depart, and the woman was still touching the glass, reluctant to part. The little girl was expressionless, and we could not tell whether she was happy or sad.

This is happening in a faraway place, but does this really have nothing to do with us? If we do not want to try to understand it and remain stoic, then it has nothing to do with us. But if we put ourselves in their shoes and watch more mindfully, we may realize, “No one is accompanying this little girl,” or “Where is this little child going?” and that sometimes people have no choice.

Thinking back to more than 2,000 years ago, why did the Buddha renounce lay life? He lived a rich life in a beautiful home. However, he felt that in life we all go through birth, aging, illness, and death, and that life is filled with impermanence and suffering. If we think more deeply, we realize that ignorance creates wars between countries.

In wars in the past, the parties fought and killed each other with swords and spears. Now, the weapons and technology are very powerful. People give commands on the ground, and drones will start bombing. Such inhumane methods harm the land and destroy the world; it is becoming more and more worrisome. On the other hand, in our lives, people still only focus on indulging in the present and cannot see beyond today. What will happen tomorrow? Nobody knows. How can we bring purity to people’s hearts? From ordinary people to celebrities in society, we must truly put ourselves in others’ shoes to understand the feelings of people, families, and society. How do we bring peace to the world? We must develop hearts of repentance.

Out of a single greedy thought, seeking the power to possess something, people attempt to seize things by force, resulting in destruction and harm. Only when the things they love the most are destroyed, and they put themselves in danger and torment, will they learn to repent. All of us must constantly repent. Only when we have empathy and loving thoughts for each other will we be willing to rebuild with concerted effort.

Take a look at manmade calamities in this world. Those in Russia and Ukraine used to be like brothers, but the desire of one to take possession of what belonged to the other led to a war between the two countries, and innocent civilians have now become refugees. Tzu Chi volunteers have transcended the bounds of religion and worked with other agencies to help refugees. Everyone has worked together to call on the international community to gather every drop of love to help.

Charity organizations should not only raise funds and materials to supply the frontlines of the relief effort. The most important thing is to gather love and awaken people’s deluded hearts. We need to awaken people, inspire their love, and be vigilant and reverent. We need to cherish our own lives as well as the lives of others. Furthermore, we need to love and protect the lives of not just humans, but all sentient beings.

When we pick up a fork to eat, if we eat seafood or other beings that have been killed, over time, collective karma accumulates. Karmic causes lead to effects and retributions, and the killing of sentient beings eventually turns into killing between human beings.

This is just like how a tiny spark can result in a great forest fire. The fire will continue to burn the trees and the land. We can consider the land to be the macrocosm, while humans are a microcosm. However, if we compare the macrocosm to a person, then when we see fires on the land, it is like fires burning a person’s hair, skin, tissues, and bones; the person’s body would be covered with injuries.

Why am I overwhelmed by the pressure in my mind? I think about people’s minds, about man-made calamities, and about the suffering of innocent people; I think extensively and deeply, and so, I feel great pressure. If all of us can develop a compassionate and awakened mind, and if we can awaken our love and bring forth the power of love to earnestly comfort and educate others, then we can bring peace to humankind, to the earth, and to the world.

Compiled from Master Cheng Yen’s teachings at the Morning Volunteer Assembly on May 3, 2022

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