Sunday, October 15, 2006

The East and West Shall Meet


Last night, we continued the Dharma talk session at a devotee’s house. As usual, we arrived early and after putting our stuff (notebook, pen, lecture notes) on the table, I scanned the book shelves with the intention of doing some brief reading before the session started.

The book that caught my attention was entitled “Diamond in the Rough” by Barry J. Farber published in 1995. As I was flipping through the pages, I jotted down several snippets on motivation as follows:

  • Each of us is a diamond in the rough … unpolished stones hidden among the rubble.
  • Failure isn’t failure as long as we learn from it.
  • “Catch a passion for helping others and a richer life will come back to you.” William H. Danforth, author of “I dare you”.
  • 3Ds of positive attitude: discipline, desire, and dedication

Then I saw something that seemed familiar:

Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens as by the way your mind looks at what happens. John Homer Miller

In an earlier post, I’ve blogged about an essence of Buddhist Teaching, “The change in our inner world is brought about by our reaction to changes in the material world. Thus we are constantly in battle against extraneous thoughts that invade our mind.” Then it hit on me, the uncanny resemblance of the message embodied in the two. One is passed down through the ages dating back to the BC era while the other one is a more contemporary and perhaps secular expression of a similar thought. In order to peg a time to the Miller’s quote, I googled him. To my surprise, his is a very popular quote; almost every hit that turned up has his quote referenced; but strangely enough, none on Miller the person. Even Wikipedia has no topic on him too.

As the hits were too numerous, I started skipping every 10 and chanced upon a more complete version of the quotation, but better still, it has two dates spanning his life:

"Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens. Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be." JOHN HOMER MILLER (1722–1791)

So I know now that he lived in the 18th century, and that’s a bit of Internet sleuthing and pleasant surprise #1.

During the intermission (the 2-hour long Dharma talk session has a 10-min break in the middle), I continued my book scan (Oh, in case you were wondering about my “unauthorized” snooping, I did ask and get the permission of the host for doing so. This is basic etiquette). Hey, look at what I found.

In another previous post, I’ve referred to a book, the Philosophy of Being Number Two, by the Venerable Master Tsing Yun. I’ve read the original version in Chinese, and remember thinking how nice it would be if it were translated into English to benefit interested parties from the English-speaking side of the world. And that’s exactly what I found, but with a slightly different English title, “The philosophy of Being Second”. Well, different names, same context.

Believing that even a few brief words can touch countless lives, the Venerable Master has started the Hsing Yun Hundred Sayings Series and this book is one of the many outcomes of that benevolent effort.

It contains the many anecdotes gleaned from encounters during a perpetual odyssey. The Venerable Master, on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of Fo Guang Shan Monastery coinciding with his 80th Birthday this year, has decided to undergo a one-year period of self-containment during which he would devote his sole attention to thinking and writing about Dharma matters, thus actualizing his fervent belief in the wise dispensation from the Buddha that “the day will come when the riches we donate will be exhausted. Our donation of knowledge, skill, truth, and the Dharma treasure, however, has no limit and cannot be overdrawn.” This is the message in an extract from the Diamond Sutra that states:

Merits gained from donating the seven treasures of the cosmos of the three thousand great chiliocosms will not equal the merits gained from upholding a short verse of wisdom.

The many first-person narratives are grouped into the following chapters:

  • Being moved is most beautiful
  • Endurance is power
  • Words should be like sunshine, flowers or clear water
  • Compassion
  • Reappraising value
  • You’re important, he’s important, I’m not
  • Spread happiness around the world
  • Being used by others shows ones’ true worth
  • Let’s not perish together
  • The philosophy of being second

Personally I feel that some of the English translations do not do justice to the profound thoughts and intents enshrined in the original Chinese phraseology, but reading the anecdotes therein will definitely enlighten the readers as to the truism that permeates the book: He who devotes himself to helping others succeed, even while working hard to actualize himself, truly becomes his own master. (While further clarification may seem superfluous, the male gender as used here is all-inclusive to encompass the female gender as well.)

I’ll endeavor to share some of these lessons from my own personal reading of the book in subsequent posts. For now, I’ll leave this quote taken from the Preface in the book:

"As paddies produce crops of rice and the lotus thrives in mud, the state of the environment is not nearly as important as our being a healthy seed. For only a good seed produces fruit. One must allow the nature of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, the wind, frost, rain, and snow to become the causes and conditions of one’s growth. Through all vicissitudes, we must never lose sight of growth and progress as our purpose in life."

2 comments:

Daniel said...

"One must allow the nature of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, the wind, frost, rain, and snow to become the causes and conditions of one’s growth."

Uncle Bee Kiong just came back from China, bringing together with him some profound knowledge about body detoxification which he learned from a famous doctor (who then became a sensei).

The sensei says it is easy to understand medical property herbs. If you see a plant growing during summer, it must have have some medical property. Plants growing during autumn are usually mosturizing. Plants that are able to withstand winter are strongly nutritious (bu3).

Say Lee said...

Maybe you could ask Uncle Bee Kiong to blog about the profound knowledge, perhaps as a guest blogger on your and my blog.

Chinese herbal medicine has a long tradition of healing people predicated on the doctrine that one herb or herbal concoction is an antidote for another. The trick is in the right combination and portion. Of course I'm simplifying things, largely based on what I've read from Chinese martial arts novels.