The other day, my co-worker told me about how she
found a map of the village where she grew up before coming to
America at a very young age. Her village is part of a bigger area
called Tai Shan in Canton, China. The map was in a website that her
friend showed her. She was extremely happy about it. She did not
know where her village was located before finding this map. Her
village was a very small place. Its population was about 100 to 200
people. Now she's found the map and can visualize it. Her joy was
something you can see from her facial expression and hear from her
voice. This year, she plans to visit her village for the very first
time since she's come to America.
Then I thought, "Wow! She's so happy that she's found
a map to where she was originally from." And when we read the
Sutras, it's a similar reaction. For some of us, we might shed tears
when we read the Sutras. Sometimes we might become very happy. All
in all, it's a good feeling. It's because we've finally found a map
to guide us to where we originally came from, that is, to our
original nature, which is pure. So when I saw her, I thought, "Yeah,
for everybody, no matter if you're Buddhist or not, we all really
want to find our source, our original place." That's how I feel when
I read the Sutras.
Returning to the original nature is kind of how I
think of repentance. I remember when I was growing up going through
certain stages. I learn to like or seek certain things. If I don't
learn to live a simple life, then I might want this toy. Because a
person is nice to me, I might want to be friends with that person.
If a person is not nice to me, then I might want to stay away from
the person. So as I grow older, the likes and seeking get stronger.
I have more and more attachments and expectations. It's like holding
a big bag and continually stuffing things inside. We accumulate more
and more inside. We think a lot of things are important but in
reality they can be put down or let go.
Well, I grew up in a Buddhist atmosphere. I learned a
lot from just my parents' actions. My mom is very gentle person and
my dad is wise. But when I went to college, I had no parents there
by my side, and I came to accumulate a lot of attachments. I met a
lot of friends and did a lot of things. During college, I seldom
even had a chance to go to the monastery, except when I came home.
It's also because I had to work. At one point, I was working two
jobs. Over these years since the beginning of college, I felt I
accumulated a lot of goals, afflictions, different kinds of desire,
and different kinds of seeking. It's not until recently when I came
to Gold Sage Monastery that I start to rethink about all the things
that are important to me. I can probably let go of the number of
friends I have; I probably can let go of the things I like and other
Repentance is kind of like that. It's a process of
emptying out the many things you accept (attach to?) and things you
seek for. For example, maybe I don't need to always hang out with
friends whenever they ask. That's something I try doing. Well,
emptying out is something you do little by little. I try not to go
to extremes. But it's nice to stay at home instead of going out to
places with a lot of people since I’ve not really cultivated well.
It's still very easy for me to be influence by others and go astray
from my principles when I'm in a crowd of people. My heart is not
very solid yet. So repentance is to trim away some of your
expectation, trim away some of your desires, and trim away bit by
bit the things stored up in your heart.
I feel when the Buddha spoke the sutra, he understands
that we live in a suffering world and that we don't realize a lot of
things we seek after actually give us suffering. So when Buddha
spoke Sutras, it was to give us happiness. And I kind of ask myself
why Buddha spoke the Dharma of repentance. And why he spoke the
Dharma of shame and remorse. In the past, I would think shame,
remorse, and repentance were to give us even more sadness and give
us even more shame. Who'd want to feel shameful; who'd want to feel
they did a lot of mistakes. It's just not easy. But I feel like
Buddha is not saying we should feel bad.
Shame, we might associate it with something that is
bad. So a lot of people might shy away from it. They might say, "Oh,
I don't want to feel shameful." They just want to have fun and enjoy
life. So now that I've kind of started to practice, understand
myself, and see what repentance means, I think it's kind of like
untying knots. All these years, I've tied many, many knots in a
rope. And the process of untying them is a little bit tedious. I
imagine untying the knots can be harsh at times or sometimes I might
feel bad. Sometimes I might enjoy doing it. But when I see that knot
untied, I feel like this rope is a bit straighter. It's a little
less knotted and smoother. So, in the process of untying the knots,
you feel that it is difficult at times and nice at other times.
That's what I think is shame. Shame is not necessarily painful. It's
something that can be joyful. In the end, it's really to bring joy
to our hearts.
Yesterday, I went to a wedding. A kid came up to me
with her mom and gave me two withered flowers. One of them was a big
flower and the other was a little flower. They were all withered and
dead. So I thought, growing up, there were a lot of things that were
"big" to me, important to me. And there were a lot of things that
were "small"; they didn't really matter to me. For example, school,
friendship, money, and food were all important to me. There were
also things that were "smaller" in its importance, like brushing my
teeth, wearing nice clothes, new shoes, and managing my hair. When
the kid gave me the big and little flowers (they're all withered), I
thought that in life a lot of things are important to us and a lot
of things are not as important to us, but in the end, everything
comes to a pass, everything is impermanent. That's why it's really
important for us to really understand what we are trying to
accomplish in this life.
If we constantly look for things that are impermanent,
then in the end we'll really see that, "Oh, it's all dried up,
withered, it's not really there anymore." Then, in the end of our
life, in our old age, we might think back and say, "Oh, I guess I
never found what I was looking for." There are a lot of things that
afflict us, no matter how big or small it is. In the end, is that
really what you're looking for in life? Is it really something that
you're asking for? Like is friendship the most important thing in
your life? Are we only seeking for what's impermanent, whether big
or small? Is that what you're asking for at the end of your life or
are you trying to find something deeper, just like how my friend was
seeking for her original place in the village -- something deeper
like finding our original nature.
When I read the Sutra, I really appreciate Buddha for
giving us this chance to find permanent happiness. Buddha does not
want us to accumulate any more suffering. So that's why when I have
a lot of afflictions and I can't pay attention to the sutras very
well or what it's trying to say, I feel sorry about it. I think that
I should be more sincere. Sometimes when I bow three times, if I
don't bow with a sincere heart, I try again until I can be a little
bit more focused.
So I hope that everybody can take this opportunity, this life, as a
chance for you to really find what's permanent and not what's
temporary. In the end, realize what's true and what's false.