有一天，無意間聽到了兩個孩子與同學間一段對話，讓我對孟母三遷的故事，又有了更切實的感受。幾個孩子都頗感驕傲地聲稱：「I am a vegetarian (我是素食者)！」「我也是！」「我也是！」一個怯怯的聲音響起：「我不是，因為我的爸爸、媽媽很愛吃肉。」另一個聲音馬上建議道：「可是你自己可以不吃啊！」「你可以告訴你的爸爸、媽媽，吃素比較健康。」緣緣擔憂的聲音響起：「唉呀，你要是還是吃肉，以後去不了天堂，再也不能跟我們一起玩了，可怎麼辦呢？」怯怯的聲音又開口了：「那我試著跟爸爸、媽媽說，以後不要再給我肉吃了，好不好？」「耶！…」一陣歡呼聲響起，站在門外的我，忍不住也悄悄地笑了。孩子的話未必全對，但在這種大環境下長大的孩子，想學壞都難！
Some days after this incident, I overheard a conversation between my girls and their classmates. This conversation made me truly and deeply grasp the meaning of the story: “Mencius’s Mother Moves Three Times.” [Note: Mencius’s mother moved three times in order to find a good learning environment for her son, who was then positively influenced by the studious neighborhood he lived in.] A couple of children were saying proudly, “I am a vegetarian!” “Me, too.” “Me, too.” A timid voice echoed, “I am not because my dad and mom love to eat meat.” Another voice recommended right away, “But you yourself don’t have to eat meat.” “You can tell your parents that being a vegetarian is healthier.” I heard Yuan-Yuan’s worried voice, “If you still want to eat meat, then you can’t go to heaven and continue to play with us anymore. What should we do?” The frightened, timid voice said again, “Maybe I can try to tell my parents not to give me meat. Is that OK?” “Yeah!” A happy cheering voice echoed. I smiled silently standing outside of the classroom. The children’s words may not be one hundred percent correct. However, it is hard for children growing up in this kind of environment to pick up bad habits.
A couple of days ago, I took the girls grocery shopping (I now live outside of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB).) A fried chicken, fresh out of the oven, happened to be packaged right in front of us. The two kids took a deep breath and immersed themselves in the aroma. I was a bit curious and asked on purpose, “Does it smell good? Do you want Mommy to get you some?” They answered with one voice again, “Nope.”
“Oh, why not?”
Guo-Guo answered: “Even though the chicken smells good, this food came from killing animals. We don’t want to eat it!” The two little carnivores actually changed and became vegetarians within the four months of our being at CTTB. Moreover, they haven’t refused any of the Chinese greens or tofu dishes that I feed them; in fact, they eat these with great relish. Such reactions have satisfied my vain ambition of being a chef. They have grown at least two or three inches taller. Many clothes that used to look like robes on them now fit. Without television, computers or Nintendos, they have become more patient. As a result, they sleep more and have more colorful outdoor activities. They are tanned from being under the sun and are full of energy. I remember when we had just arrived at the CTTB four months ago, the two children, lacking exercise, were frightened to tears by the swaying swings. And now, looking at the two little monkeys jumping up and down on the swings, I can’t help wondering whether their father will be shocked when he sees these two girls again.
Studying at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas—
Part 5: In the Company of Three People
Confucius said, “Among three people, one must be my teacher.” In my daily interaction with my two children, they have imperceptibly taught me many social principles with their pure innocent minds. I have gained a lot of benefits from this experience. Who says that children cannot be our teachers? As long as we set aside our role as parents and try to experience and explore our lives, we will discover that we can gain much more than we have given up.
Having studied Buddhism for so many years, I know the principle of not killing. However, principles are principles. I cannot bear to see bugs or mosquitoes flying all over my house. After having kids, I had more legitimate reasons for not letting bugs bite my children, contaminate our food and spread disease. Therefore, as soon as I saw them, I had to kill them right away. After moving to CTTB, my old habits did not change. Listening to my neighbor’s exhortations a few times, I had some reservations when killing these bugs. Right after killing them, I always recited the Rebirth Mantra and prayed that these bugs would be reborn in heaven. It seemed like chanting for them could counteract my guilt.
One day, I was chasing after a fly that had flown into my house by accident. All of a sudden, my daughter Yuan-Yuan spoke up, “Mommy, the teacher said that flies and mosquitoes are also our friends. We shouldn’t kill them. Open the door and let it fly away!” Hearing her words, I felt ashamed and wanted to hide. A five-year old had the heart to tolerate flies, whereas I who profess to be a Buddhist did not have such tolerance. I’m learning the Buddhadharma? What have I learned? Ever since this incident, I, who am immaculately clean, have finally stopped killing any living beings. I reflected, “It should not be the case that I cannot even match up to my children.” Whenever I have the intention to kill, this reflection has become the life-saving mantra for the insects.
Another time I walked the children to school. Because I was in a hurry, I was going to walk across a green lawn. Yuan-Yuan turned around and saw what I was doing. She screamed, “Mommy, you are so big and heavy. The little grass will be so hurt by your footsteps.” I was shocked. My children have grown, and understand so much more now. As a mother, one of my main tasks now is to reflect on how to regulate my own behavior. Otherwise, not only will I be ashamed to face my daughters’ innocent eyes and sensitive hearts, but I will also fail to win their respect.
There was another incident in which I lost my temper with my children because they would not eat properly. They would take one bite of food and go off to play. It would take them more than an hour to finish a bowl of rice. I, who had not gotten angry for a long time, jumped and roared like a lion. My two little ones were frightened and stunned. Tears filled their eyes but did not fall. Guo-Guo hugged my feet and said with a trembling voice, “Mommy, we love you so much. Do you not love us anymore?” Yuan-Yuan also said carefully, “Mommy, the teacher said that a good child does not lose her temper. Yuan-Yuan has not been angry for a long time. Could you also not be angry anymore?” Thinking about what they had said, I suddenly realized how my children had changed. Yuan-Yuan, who previously had a hot temper, really did not get mad or scream. The children could even correct themselves when they made mistakes. Was it the case that I couldn’t match up to my children again? Shifting my paradigm, my temper vanished without a trace. I got down on their level, looked straight into their eyes, and said with a stern tone, “Okay. Let’s talk.” I discovered to my surprise that communicating with the children peacefully was more gentle and could be done while still maintaining discipline. It was much more effective than spanking or yelling at them.
This makes me think of the composition of the word ‘understand’. If I cannot be ‘under’—that is, lower myself and put myself in others’ shoes, how can I ‘stand’? Don’t we also have an ancient Chinese verse, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to you.” If I want my children to be gentle, polite, wholesome and obedient, how can I lose control and lose my temper? As parents, if we scream, yell and spank our children, they will learn from us and become temperamental. After we scream at our children, is it any wonder that they become rebellious and never listen? We, parents, then rationalize that such screaming and yelling is necessary to teach and discipline our children! As Buddhists, when we have a haughty and rebellious child, we always say, “This rebellious son is a karmic obstacle. I owe something to him/her from my previous life.” We simply categorize the children that way, convict and sentence them. Aren’t we just shirking our responsibilities?
My youngest daughter Guo-Guo weighed a little more than three pounds after birth. I exhausted all my efforts to save her life from the hands of King Yama. Therefore, she is a bit bratty and very self-absorbed. It is hard to imagine that such a child would become considerate and thoughtful, since she had been spoiled and could have anything she wanted. After moving to CTTB, the changes in her surprised me.
One day, on our way to school, we saw a rabbit running in a hurry in front of us. Guo-Guo excitedly screamed and chased after the rabbit until he could not be seen anymore. She yelled, “Rabbit, I love you. Come back here. I want to see you one more time. Just once!” Before she could finish the sentence, her eyes were red because the rabbit was long gone. Witnessing this scene, I felt bad and said impulsively, “Guo-Guo, it’s all right. I’ll buy you a rabbit for you to play with at home. Okay?” As soon as I finished saying this, I was a bit surprised. I usually don’t invite any trouble and would refuse to have pets at home. Since I had offered, I thought Guo-Guo would be ecstatic. Unexpectedly, she turned me down. “Why not?” This was not what I had expected at all. She told me in a serious tone, “The rabbit lives in the forest with its parents and many little friends who play with him. If we take the rabbit home, he will cry and so will his father and mother!” I was very touched by this. This little one was so thoughtful and considerate for the rabbit!
Seeing my two kids holding hands, walking in front of me, joy rose from the bottom of my heart. Yes, I was proud of them—just for their gentle and wholesome hearts. Appreciation and more appreciation! I appreciate those teachers who silently give and dedicate themselves to teaching. They used the magic wand of the Buddhadharma to teach and transform my two children, who were originally unruly and self-centered, so that they have become so polite, graceful and wholesome. I am also grateful to my children for giving me an opportunity to reflect upon my past mistakes. As we grow up together, the three of us walk down the road of learning. My little ones are indeed my teachers.