Treading the Buddha Path

By Chang Meng, The Buddhist Channel, Nov 21, 2008

Taipei, Taiwan -- Don’t ask me why I came to this Awakening Camp, and don’t ask me if I will become a monastic in the future. There are just too many answers, and also because there’s really no answer, and especially because even if there were an answer, it would not matter.

Regardless of the answer, it would not change what each and every person who has attended this camp has learned and been inspired by.  A wholesome seed has been planted, thus sooner or later, when the conditions are ripe, it will germinate, grow and become strong.

Winter at Dharma Drum Mountain is very cold. Especially after having shaving our heads bare, when the cold wind blew, I could not help tucking my neck in the collar. No wonder why the fashi (monastics) often catch a cold.  Within the next eight days I would experience the life of those who till the end of their lives, contribute all of themselves to a frugal monastic lifestyle.

“I, Chang Meng, take refuge in the Buddha, take refuge in the Dharma, take refuge in the Sangha, following the Buddha as a home-leaver, with Master Sheng Yen as the Preceptor, and all Buddhas as my witnesses.”  It is said that those who tend to cry easily usually have a soft heart.  If it is true, then I am definitely one of them.  In the simple yet solemn precept ceremony, my tears came out without end.  Seeing the white jade Buddha statue in the Chan Hall, I never felt that I have been so close to the Buddha.  After taking the precepts, putting on the monastic robe and making prostrations to the Buddha, I felt relaxed and light in body as if all my afflictions had fallen off, with no need to collect them, and definitely no need to pick them up.  Just like that, I became a monastic, for the time being.
There is a big difference between lay and monastic people, which is taking and upholding the precepts.  Before the Buddha entered nirvana, he told his disciples to take the precepts as their guide. During Venerable Hui Min’s very humorously styled class, I learned quite a lot. For example, each precept has its own meaning and purpose, which helps us purify our physical, verbal, and mental actions, stay away from the three poisons of greed, hatred and ignorance, and reduce our attachments, vexations, and fear.  Thus upheld, the precepts help our mind become calm and at ease.

The general coordinator for this program explained to us the tremendous merits brought about from taking precepts.  For every single precept that we vow to take, sentient beings will be aware of this and acknowledge that we will not harm them, and they will feel safe around us.  Therefore, upholding the precepts is not something that controls us.  Instead, it is the manifestation of bodhi mind and compassion.  So with this said, after all, are precepts and the monastic robes a kind of restraint, or are they a kind of assistance to help us gain liberation?

During the camp we also watched a new film, Footprints of the Monk.  I could not help crying when I saw Shifu, with his slender and weak body, walking alone in the dsnow.  Shifu has always had a firm direction.  As long as it brings benefits to sentient beings, Shifu will put forth all his effort, without considering his own benefit.  He exemplifies the teaching, “Seeking benefits for sentient beings, one will not fear any kind of difficulties; When sentient beings are free from suffering, one experiences happiness even though one is in adversity.”  I felt quite ashamed of myself and concerned for Shifu.

How is it that the virtuous behavior of eminent monastics are able to influence us so much?  Actually, it is not what they have said or what they have achieved.  It is how they lived their lives, actualizing what they believed in through their speech and action.  Chan Master Sheng Yen is just one such person.  He not only taught us through his words and language, but set an example through his own behavior and determination.  He has taught us how the buddhadharma is so great and explained to us the meaning of wisdom and compassion. Venerable Hui Min said to us that, “Every single breath of mine is so precious.  It comes as a result of the contribution from all other sentient beings, it comes as something to assist me , how can I not make good use of it and contribute what I have?  How can I not engage in the spreading and sharing of the buddhadharma so that it will last forever?”
At the last nights ceremony of Transmitting the Lamp, hearing the sharing from the monastics about how they prepared this camp and what they have gone through, I was deeply grateful and amazed at all the efforts and time that they had put in to give us a chance to learn the buddhadharma and to share with us their own experience.  What kind of strength is it that supports them to move on?  What kind of vows have they made which makes them give us their best without thinking about their own interest?  Why were we all here, I thought, resting my sight on the auspicious Buddha statue that stood in the dim light.  Why do we have so much suffering in life?  Why can’t we find a way out of this journey?  Why are we unable to find a firm and unchanging direction?  As for those monastics, so tired and fatigued--they still have such a strong mind.
Raindrops falling outside the window seemed to become the teardrops of Bodhisattvas, who shed tears over the suffering that sentient beings experience, life after life. Bodhisattvas are compassionate, willing to help sentient beings be free from suffering, yet we have been difficult to tame, continuing to drown in the cycle of birth and death.  I don’t what to do.  I only can make vows before the Buddha that I will practice Buddhist teaching from life after life, following the buddha’s footsteps on the right path, practicing the bodhisattva way, helping all sentient beings free from suffering and attain happiness, and never retreating from this Buddha path.

Eight days seemed to be long, but they passed quickly.  I knew that the monastic’s actual lifestyle is not as easy as what we had in the past eight days.  Though I know of the direction they’ve taken, their resolution to benefit sentient beings, and their selfless giving.  I probably would not be able to do as much as they do, but I will try my best and emulate them.

Regardless of the various causes and conditions that brought us here, and no matter how they evolve in the future, I am glad that in my life I have experienced eight days of pure speech, action and thought, with so many good learned friends, who all trod with me in the footsteps of the Buddha.

Chang Meng was a participant of Dharma Drum Mountain Awakening Camp

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