Talk title: 众缘和合好缘亮
On 12 Aug 2023, Dharma Drum Singapore was enlivened by a Dharma talk given by Former Abbot President Venerable Guo Dong, as more than a hundred devotees made their way to the centre to listen to the venerable’s wisdom. The theme of his talk was on the conditional nature of phenomena, and the title of his talk was “Allowing Good Conditions to Assemble and Shine”.
In between bites of humour and various witticisms, Venerable Guo Dong conveyed the Dharma to his audience in many bite-sized pieces. He started off by first establishing something that most of us have forgotten, that the first of the truth of impermanence that we have heard about many times before is not depressing nor pessimistic; in fact, it should be celebrated as a truth that gives us hope that we can learn to make things better. Since things are not fixed we can experiment, and even if we fail, we just dust ourselves off and try again.
What then is the motivation that should propel us forward to become better versions of ourselves? Venerable Guo Dong reminds us that it is the spirit of the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva listens and understands that the path ahead is difficult, but forges ahead nonetheless to liberate countless other sentient beings. While we have a mortal body that is finite and subject to decay and suffering, we can all make our choice to embrace whatever we have, bearing in mind that our current conditions are the fruit of previous karma. By fully accepting our present good or bad conditions, we can then discharge our responsibilities well and maintain peace of the heart. In this way, the body then is elevated to becoming a tool of practice, rather than just remaining a passive instrument that we have no choice but to accept. As we practise, we also become more able to remain steady even as the world changes dramatically around us, rather than being led by the nose without any mindfulness, as we have been for an endless length of time.
Cultivating our minds in this way will allow us to positively impact those around us, including our family members and office colleagues. Venerable Guo Dong admonishes us to remember to build our homes as places only for love, harmony and honesty, on the foundations of open discussion. On the other hand, the office should be built to embrace diversity and difference between people and be a living “classroom” where we actively learn to let go of our self-centredness. Perhaps we shared a great idea that is too early and avant-garde for others to accept; in this case, we need to learn how to read the current conditions, let go of attachment to the idea, and wait for a time in the future when others are finally on the same page to bring it up again. We should work diligently and share our opinions freely, but remember that our diligence might not yield immediate results. We need to learn how to let go of our attachment for an immediate outcome when conditions are not yet ripe, and yet keep the goal in our mind with a steadfast determination.
Now that we know what needs to be done, how do we get there, especially since it sounds hard? Venerable Guo Dong says that we need pay explicit attention to our mental development. In this process, we need to be proactive but not rushed, and to constantly remind ourselves to start from a place of both bodily and mental relaxation. We should also constantly let go of our mental afflictions, as well as the responsibilities we carry with us. Whether we meet with joy or anguish outside in the world, we do not get attracted or repelled; instead, we use it as an opportunity to reinforce our view of dependent arising. Usually, we want the things we do to have good outcomes, which gives rise to a mind that measures gain or loss, eventually ending up in suffering. The venerable stressed: as long as there is ignorance and suffering, you can be sure that there is the self-view at work somewhere behind the scenes! As we continue practising, however, we start to become more familiar with the real nature of things – that they arise dependently on natural conditions, and that they bear the fundamental characteristics of existence – impermanence, suffering, non-self and emptiness. Keeping our precepts allows us to develop our meditation; keeping a balanced mind through meditation then gives rise to wisdom; wisdom then allows suffering to be kept at bay. Cultivating our precepts, meditation and wisdom and observing our thoughts and actions will allow us to keep our minds in balance, safeguard our mental wellbeing, and be of true benefit to others.
In sum, the venerable urged us to remember that the pinnacle of mental development is the perfection of compassion and wisdom. To accomplish this, we start by embracing a mindset of humility. In humility we learn to bear responsibilities for the sake of sentient beings, and cherish every encounter with them we have. We learn to let go of our conditioned inclinations to measure gain and loss, embrace the ups and downs of life, and constantly recollect the inherent empty nature of existence. By repeatedly following this path, one day we will emerge as perfected individuals with the capacity of a Buddha.
Written by: Kan Rong Hui
Photograph by: Zeng Jin Xiang
Event date: 12 August 2023