My mother, a devoted Buddhist, would never casually give other people's things away, as far as I know. She is even more honest and heart-to-heart with the Buddhas. I really believe she has "a mind as pure as sparkling water."
When I was little, my family was poor. My father earned only forty cents each day. Yet Mother always managed to be thrifty in eating and spending. Every year, in the fall or winter, she would spend twenty-some dollars in bus fare to return to her hometown in Fukien. What for? To bow to the Buddha. During the trip, she preferred to go without food for the day, not even wanting to spend five cents on a bowl of rice porridge, and would spend the night squatting under the eaves of the station... Despite her poverty, she showed her sincerity by saving every penny to buy enough incense and paper money to offer to the Buddhas on the New Year, full moon and half moon celebrations during the year. In our village of over ten families, although the others did not have this kind of expense, their lives were not more comfortable than ours. Mother, imperceptibly, became a model of housekeeping and teaching the children.
In the autumn after I graduated from high school, Mother asked me to return to her hometown with her. To me, the old hometown is just the old hometown. I did not have the slightest impression of it, how much the less any sentiment. But I still went, mainly because I was influenced by Mother's faith in the Buddha. She often talked about the Sage of Feng-shan Monastery, who started out as a very poor boy who tended cows. However, because he was diligent, honest, kind, and sincere to the Buddha, he later became a Buddha under the guidance of an immortal. He now aids and protects those who are poor and those who are honest and trustworthy. She also talked frequently about the Patriarch of Chin-swei Yen (Clear Water Rock), saying that every year in August and September, the road would be crowded with cars taking people to offer incense and pray in the temple.
After reaching our hometown, we rested for half a day to shake off the fatigue of travelling several hundred
li. In the afternoon, in preparation for the pilgrimage to Feng-shan Monastery, Mother walked to a shop to buy incense, candles, paper money of gold and silver, firecrackers, and some cakes and fruits. After making sure all the provisions were in order, she placed them in a small bag prepared especially for the purpose and solemnly fastened it. With the air of having finished an important task, she walked merrily back to Grandma's house. When she was buying things in the shop, I noticed that she asked about their prices, but did not bargain. She appeared totally serious, as if engaged in a spiritual and majestic affair. I also remember that at lunch she asked Grandma for a bit of homemade pickled turnips. And before we went out, she filled a basin with water to wash her face and hands...
It is twenty-five miles from our hometown to Feng-shan Monastery, and Mother decided that we would set out on foot at 5:30. When I asked her why she didn't want to take a bus, she said, "How can you show your sincerity if you take a bus? Just keep thinking about the Lord Buddha, you won't feel the least bit tired."
We set off at dawn the next day, after finishing two bowls of rice porridge with pickled turnips. The roads we took were rough, bumpy mountain paths that went up and down. It was September, a period of scorching heat in the early autumn. The mornings were cool and autumn-like, but when the sun came out it was really scorching. Mother walked in front of me with energetic steps. She often looked back at me with her smiling, sweat-covered face and gave me encouragement.
It was after eleven when we reached Feng-shan Monastery. Climbing up all the stairs, the two bowls of porridge were burned up, and my stomach was starting to growl. However, Mother's face was glowing, and she took me to wash my hands, dried them with a clean handkerchief, and then folded my sleeves neatly. Her hands trembled as she took out the comparatively poor offerings and made room for them on the wide altar before the Sage Lord. Solemnly, she lit a pair of red candles and a stick of incense, and put her palms together. With the utmost sincerity she knelt down, murmuring some words. At that moment, I found that Mother, who was over fifty years of age, did not look at all old. I had never seen her face so radiant, and she looked at least twenty years younger.
At lunch, I realized that Mother was neither tired nor hungry. On our way home, the road was all uphill, yet Mother's steps were so light and effortless that she seemed to be aided by a spirit. I chased after her, short of breath. It was completely dark before we reached home. That night, Mother told me, "Tomorrow we will be going to Pure Water Rock, which is even farther--more than thirty
1i from here. You should be well prepared." Her words left no room for discussion, so I assented and wondered, "How come you are not tired at all after walking for a whole day?"
The next day, on the way to Pure Water Rock, Mother saw that I could not keep up with her, and stopped several times to urge me on, saying, "You have to keep thinking about the Patriarch!" At the time I thought to myself, "I have never even seen him, so how can I think about him?" Looking back now, I can smile at my not knowing that faith in the Buddha is a spiritual thing that has nothing to do with whether or not you have seen him. That day, two things impressed me most. One was the so-called "Fairyland" of Pure Water Rock, which was packed with visitors offering incense. The other was Mother, petite yet powerful, who walked so fast all the way that she seemed to fly.
Mother's extraordinary performance on these two days made me ponder for a long time and left an indelible impression on me. My faith in Buddhism also sprouted from this. Later on, as I grew in maturity and received Mother's influence, I gradually realized that the power of faith is limitless. Long before, Mother had already put the Buddha firmly in her mind. When the Buddha is in your mind, you will deeply believe in the Buddha's boundless power. You will sincerely feel the Buddha is above and beside you all the time, and you will wholeheartedly do the things that the Buddha approves of without hesitation. As a result, it is certain that your faith will increase a hundred-fold, inspirations will occur one after another, everything will go your way, and you will achieve success.
The Buddha is kind, compassionate, and vastly tolerant, but a Buddhist would never take that kindness and tolerance as an excuse to indulge himself. Instead, he would consider it the nourishment for his maturity and wisdom. It is an easy and joyful thing to have faith in the Buddha, for you are not required to memorize regulations or precepts by rote. You need only worship a most lofty and unsurpassed Buddha in your own mind ... you can then come to terms with your own wealth or poverty, respect and believe in yourself, and face the world with fearless courage.
It is not that easy to really keep the Buddha in your mind. You must be tested and purified. First, you must refrain from lying, for even self-deceit will not be forgiven by the Buddha. Anyone who wishes to take refuge in the Buddha, whether he is as noble as an Emperor or as low as a beggar, must start from sincerity and actual practice, by keeping his word, by handling things without discriminating their importance, by cultivating the virtue of goodness, by not being lax, and by doing tasks fully from start to finish. Dispel all defiled thoughts and afflictions, thoroughly clean out your insides so that they are spotless and crystal-clear. At that time, the Buddha will enter your mind and there will be nothing you cannot achieve.
Under Mother's guidance, I am cultivating and being refined step by step. Although I seldom go out, last July I decided to travel for a few days. I visited South Mountain Monastery at Jan-jou, Chin-Swei-Yen (Pure Water Rock) Monastery at An-syi, Feng-shan Monastery on Shr Mountain at Nan-an, Kai-ywan Monastery at Chywan-jou, and South Potola Monastery at Sya-meng. At each of these places, I went especially to bow to the Lord Buddha. With all my sincerity, I would light a pair of red candles and a stick of incense, put my palms together, and quietly reflect on the Buddha's teachings for a long while....