What the Master emphasized most was that
we should be able to take suffering and
forget about ourselves in order to help others.
Although I had the opportunity to join the monastic life and study under the Venerable Master, I have been in the temple for only a short time and have not studied very well. Today I would like to discuss a few very ordinary incidents that illustrate the the Venerable Master’s patience in teaching his disciples.
I remember once saying to the Venerable Master, "Master, I really wish to repent before you, but I know that I cannot. Why? I feel that a person is qualified to repent only if he sincerely wants to change and will not repeat his offense after repenting. If I know that I can't refrain from repeating my mistake, then I do not have the capacity to go through the repentance. So, although I wish to repent, I don't feel I cannot bring myself to do so."
The Master listened quietly, and then said,
It's my fault that I didn't teach you well.
His words made me feel terribly ashamed and remorseful.
The Master taught his disciples with tremendous patience. He constantly travelled from temple to temple, paying attention to every disciple with equal concern. In the evenings when we had sutra lectures at the Wonderful Words Hall, the Master always arrived before the assembly did. But instead of taking his seat at the front of the hall, what did he do? He stood by the door. At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the winter was freezing cold and the summer blazaing hot. But the Venerable Master would be standing at the entrance, watching each of us as we filed into the Wonderful Words Hall reciting the Buddha's name. After the lecture, the Master would leave the hall before the assembly, and again, he would stand by the door, watching us as we walked out one by one, as if to send us off. No one knew how long the Master continued to stand there after we had all gone, for he was the last to leave. Every time we lined up to go listen to the sutra lecture, we were both extremely anxious and extremely afraid to see the Master. Why did we have such contradictory feelings? We were eager to see the Master because it was just like seeing our own father. Even though we couldn't see him every day, we knew that if he were in the City, he would join the assembly for the evening lecture. On the other hand, we were afraid because we knew we hadn't done a good job of cultivating and teaching ourselves, and so we felt we couldn't face the Master. This was the contradictory feeling that arose in the hearts of many of the Master's disciples.
In addition to remonstrating painstakingly teachingus, the Master often encouraged us to emulate the sages and worthy ones. He especially praised Yan Hui, saying,
Yan Hui (Yanhui) was a worthy and virtuous sage, because he never made the same mistake twice. The Great Yu was also a virtuous sage, for he would make obeisance whenever he heard about a person's good deeds. Zi Lu (Zilu) was also a virtuous man, for he rejoiced when others pointed out his faults to him.
The Master wanted us to learn to change ourselves, to transform our evil into goodness, and to be sincere and diligent in everything we do.
Speaking of diligence, I thought of a story concerning the Master when he was a novice monk. Many of you may know this story, but it doesn't hurt hearing the Master's exemplary deeds again; it will encourage us to emulate him in our daily lives.
When the Master was a novice monk in Manchuria, when it snowed in the bitterly cold winters, he would get up long before anyone else, before the morning boards were hit. What did he do after waking up so early? It is not the case that he got up very early so he could do his own practice, but to clear the snow from the walkways so everyone would be able to walk safely to the Buddha hall without slipping. He also cleaned the filth from the pit toilets. One day he said to his disciples:
If you knew what I did with my hands today, I bet none of you would dare to eat the food I cooked today. Why? Because I got my hands all messy and stinky scrubbing thirty toilets, and then I cooked this meal. I bet nobody dares to eat it.
From these small incidents, we can see what the Master was teaching: that having a noble character is more important than being able to discuss lofty theories. What the Master emphasized most was that we should be able to endure suffering and forget ourselves in order to benefit others.
This is the true Buddhist spirit of kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. We may study the most profound doctrines, but it would be better to truly understand and practice even a little bit of it in our own lives. Then we are truly putting the teaching into practice.
This is the little bit of personal experience from many years that I would like to share with everyone. I hope that we can all urge ourselves to apply in daily life even just a single word or sentence of what the Venerable Master taught us.