I became acquainted with the Venerable Master’s teachings about four years ago, around the time when Taiwan had the SARS crisis. Actually, SARS is like the dangerous and contagious respiratory disease that the Venerable Master mentioned in his Dharma talks. As a health worker, I was met with fear once I left the hospital where I worked. Since I could be quarantined for even the slightest fever, it was hard for me to go anywhere. It was then my aunt sent me publications of the Venerable Master’s Dharma talks, and I began to study his teachings. The Venerable Master said that people who recite the Great Compassion Mantra and the Shurangama Mantra would be untouched by an epidemic. This was when I started to learn the Shurangama Mantra.
While reading the Venerable Master’s lectures, I was amazed by the way he spoke the truth and promoted morality, without following traditional customs just to please people. Living in the Taiwanese society where truth is becoming rarer while lies are increasing daily, my respect for the Venerable Master arose naturally. His teachings guided me through difficulties and confusing situations in my career, transformed me from someone who never touched a Sutra to someone who wishes to explore the Sutra treasury, and helped me to understand mental illnesses from a Buddhist perspective. He also showed me the error of overlooking the precepts, and inspired me to learn and uphold the precepts instead.
When I graduated from school, I entered my profession with idealistic expectations. I worked alongside experienced and senior clinical psychologists whom I respected. One day, however, when I realized that my colleagues were treating my innocence and respect for others as weaknesses to exploit, I experienced a high degree of cognitive dissonance. I began to wonder whether in order to succeed in my profession, in addition to developing a specialty, I needed to learn how to exploit others’ weaknesses to benefit myself. However, I knew I could never do something like that. Fortunately, the Venerable Master emphasized the importance of following rules of ethics and morality. He also pointed out that living beings in the Dharma-ending age are highly contentious, and thus behaviors that benefit themselves at the expense of others are common. His teachings reaffirmed my original believes and allowed me to clearly distinguish between right and wrong at work, so I was no longer bothered by the fighting or the gossip.
Having grown up in Taiwan, as a student, I was required to study ancient Chinese texts (i.e., written in classical Chinese). However, I never understood them very well; I even guessed on my exams for those classes. Before encountering the Venerable Master’s teachings, I was already studying the Buddhadharma. I participated in Dharma Assemblies for meditation and recitation of the Buddha’s name, but I never thought about studying the Sutras. Since the Sutras are written in classical Chinese, I thought I would never understand them in this lifetime. Fortunately, the Venerable Master used simple and easily understandable language when he explained the Sutras, so I could experience the richness of the Sutras which surpasses our worldly knowledge. I also realized that the Sutras are talking about how we think and act in our daily lives, and this understanding prompted my interest to investigate the Sutras and my wish to explore the Sutra treasury.
As a clinical psychologist, I have encountered some cases of mental illnesses that no amount of treatment could cure, even after using the entire range of psychotherapy and milieu therapy, and the newest medications. When I met with these patients, I could not help them, and so I felt frustrated and powerless. The Venerable Master said that people with mental disorders often have committed serious karmic offenses. Therefore, living beings, who they have harmed or are otherwise indebted to, are following them around, seeking revenge and repayment. In addition, people need to have merits, virtues, and good roots in order to encounter wholesome Dharma. Based on these principles, when I discuss with my patients about their daily activities, I put more emphasis on and encourage them to do good deeds, such as volunteer work, that will help them to gain merits and virtues. I also discourage them from wasting time in search of pleasure.
The Venerable Master also mentioned that homosexuality is wrong. However, in the field of psychiatry, homosexuality is no longer considered as a disorder. I also have some friends and patients who are gay. I remember in one of Dharma Master Heng Sure's lectures he said that when the Venerable Master met people who are gay, he wisely and compassionately helped them from the perspective of reducing desires. I follow this teaching as a guideline in treating patients and interacting with friends who are gay. In actuality, not all knowledge is correct. Therefore, I am very fortunate to study the Buddhadharma and the Venerable Master's teachings, and use them to examine and reflect on the worldly knowledge that I use every day.
Before I didn’t understand the reasons for upholding the precepts, and so I had doubts about this practice. I wondered, if I uphold the precepts just because others are doing so, how could it help me in my cultivation. However, after learning the Venerable Master’s emphasis on upholding the precepts and listening to my patients’ stories, I understood the importance of upholding the precepts.
Let me share some of my patients’ stories with you. I had a patient around 40 years old, who was suffering from Bipolar I Disorder. He told me that when he was young, he suspected that his girlfriend was being unfaithful and, without any proof, killed her. He was sentenced to prison, and after serving his time, he began his life anew. He worked hard, started his own family, and raised two children whom he loved very much. But just when he was able to enjoy the fruit of his labor, he fell ill. He was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder. This disorder is a form of severe psychosis, with a very slim chance of recovery. His wife filed for divorce and took their children away. The patient was suffering tremendously as a result.
Another example deals with female patients with Bipolar II Disorder. When I asked them whether they had abortions in the past, it turned out that seven out of ten had. This type of Bipolar Disorder consists of two phases: the Hypomanic Episode and the Major Depressive Episode. During the Hypomanic Episode, patients experience euphoria, continuously seek to fulfill their various desires, and ignore potentially harmful results of their actions. For example, they may go on shopping sprees and end up in debt, or get involved in one-night stands. During the Major Depressive Episode, patients feel so depressed, helpless, and hopeless that they consider life is worthless or meaningless. These feelings may even lead to suicide.
The story that made the greatest impression on me is about a beautiful young woman who has a loving husband and two adorable children. After working hard for many years, the patient and her husband finally achieved a fairly high standard of living, complete with a house, cars, and children. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. She was hospitalized several times, but the treatments were not very effective. Although she knows how to live a normal life, she could not do so because of her illness. When I got to the question of whether she had an abortion, she told me that before she married her husband, she was pregnant with their child. However, since they were not married and were afraid of the negative effect of the premarital pregnancy on their parents’ reputation, they chose abortion over giving birth to the child.
Another example is about a patient who is around 30 years old, and she suffered from recurrent Major Depressive Disorder. She also has a nice family. Her husband is a computer engineer who takes good care of her and their two children. Her daughter is only an elementary school student, but she is very considerate. Every time the patient is hospitalized, her daughter sends words through her husband, telling her how much she is loved and missed. After she returns home, her daughter keeps her company, encourages her, and pleases her by behaving very well. However, when symptoms of her depression recur, she repeatedly hurts herself. Whenever she feels really depressed or anguished, she throws herself against a wall or cuts herself. She tries to release her psychological pain by her physical pain. During the periods of mood-irregular exacerbation, she behaves like this almost every day. When asked, she told me that she had an abortion. Although I don’t know whether her ailment stemmed from her abortion, her condition is really sad.
After listening to these stories, I realized why the Venerable Master emphasized the importance of upholding the precepts. If people could uphold the precepts, those killings would not have taken place, and they would not have to endure the suffering of their retribution. Therefore, I resolved to learn and uphold the precepts. This year I am fortunate enough to receive the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Although I have never met the Venerable Master, his teachings continuously guide me toward the correct path in life. I believe in all of the Venerable Master’s instructions, and bit by bit I try to put his teachings into practice.
This article is extracted from the new publication the "Innocent Little Ghosts" with the author's permission.