Is the Greatest Vow in my Life
"The real terminal illness of mankind is not AIDS or cancer, but the bankruptcy of education and the decline of intellectual culture....The minds of young children are defiled by the environment, while the resolutions of adolescents and adults are harmed by corrupt customs....Many young students are led astray and cannot return. They become so ill that no medicine can cure them, and eventually walk the road to death, without any sense of regret. How sad this is! Who's to blame? Whose fault is it?"
Every time I read this quote of the Venerable Master, the Master's anguished expression appears in my mind's eye, and I involuntarily sweat and burst into tears! As I review my forty-some years of life, it seems that the words "teaching and education" have always been on my lips and mind. Since I was raised in an affluent environment, I shouldn't know what worry and grief are. However, whenever I saw classmates who were rebellious, friendless, and depressed, perhaps because they didn't have a good family or because they weren't very smart, I felt terribly pained. In education, no one should be given up on. How can grades and rank be used to determine a person's life? An idea arose in my young mind: When I grow up, I'm going to be a teacher and devote myself to education!
While growing up, two movies deeply impressed me. One was about a strict nun who won over a bunch of naughty boarding school girls with love, faith and patience. The other was about a woman who renounced her marriage and studies and returned to her rural hometown to dedicate her life to teaching. In the last scene, the aged teacher, teaching the grandchildren of her first generation of students, died quietly on the podium. Totally moved, I cried out in my heart, "What courage! That's the place to die!"
I enrolled in the Chinese Department of a teachers' college, taking a further step towards fulfilling my vow to teach. During a visit to an orphanage in my junior year, the director seriously commented, "The reason people are poor is because they don't know how to live and teach their children." As I watched the orphans, my eyes brimmed with tears. If people don't know how to live, isn't it because they haven't received a complete education? If people don't know how to teach their children, isn't it because they haven't been taught well themselves?
After graduation, remembering my teacher's words, "Teaching must be done in good conscience," I very cautiously started teaching. I can only describe my three years of teaching as "fighting alone." The pressure of helping students pass the entrance exam, while at the same time trying to realize my ideals and the expectations of the principal and parents, made me old quickly. In Taiwan's educational environment, with its emphasis on utilitarianism and passing the entrance exam, teachers cram knowledge into students as if stuffing ducks, hoping to raise their own prestige. Principals and deans use the teachers' "success" as their brickbats to knock down doors. And the poor students had no choice but to take their daily doses of English, Math, Physics and Chemistry, as well as vitamins A,B,C and D.
Finally, I deserted the battle and came to the United States. I stubbornly tried to fool myself: I wasn't giving up, I just couldn't bear to be part of this "duck-stuffing" education. I returned to school to study education, but found that western educational theories, like a new shirt which is too large, didn't fit me. So I gave up studying and started a business. I worked hard to make money, taking what seemed to be a torturous path. Yet I knew I wasn't making money for my own enjoyment. More than once, I have yelled in my dreams, "I want to establish a school!"
Since learning the Dharma, I've deeply realized that we cannot demand things by force. After having the fortune to take refuge with the Venerable Master, admiring his lofty ideals, I put down everything and came straight to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, taking the Master's vows and work in education as my own. Today's education is on the brink of bankruptcy. People with power and position only care about building up the national defense, not realizing that education is the country's real defense. Parents only strive for fame and profit, not realizing that teaching their children well is the real asset. Therefore, in order to avert the severe crisis, in addition to the spirit of love, teachers must use expedient means. Each of the myriad creatures has its own nature. If its nature is complied with, then its form will be complete, and its life will be pleasant and comfortable. If its nature is harmed, its form becomes incomplete and it will die young. The greatest and most valuable quality in education is to teach according to each student's ability. If an educator does his job without love, he's not qualified to discuss education. If he has love, but lacks methods, he should not discuss education. The Venerable Master has said, "Education is one of my lifelong vows." As his disciple, although I have no talent and little virtue, I am willing to describe my Master's deeds and carry on his will. Therefore I said, "Education is the greatest vow in my life."
Standing in the snow and sitting in the wind,
Straining my heart and shedding my blood,
I resolve to educate the dull to become gold and jade.
This couplet is to express my resolve and commemorate the Venerable Master's birthday.
Honoring the ancestors and teaching the descendants,
Carrying on the past and opening up the future,
I vow to be a bridge for the Buddhas and the sages.