Namo Shakya Muni Buddha.
Dear Venerable monks, nuns and lay Buddhists.
Today is the first day of the Lunar New Year, on the 12 February 2021 of western calendar. From the faraway Germany, I have had the honor of being invited by the most Venerable Master Hui Siong, abbot of Beel Low See Temple in Singapore and other temples in Malaysia and Indonesia, to have a talk online with you all today. First, I want to thank Master Hui Siong for the invitation, also his secretary miss Jackie and all of you for this opportunity.
Buddha has taught us that everything arises with conditions, and the true nature of everything is emptiness. I am sure, as Buddhists, you are familiar with this teaching. He also taught us other teachings, according to Theravada traditions such as: impermanence, suffering and non-self or according to Mahayana traditions: impermanence, suffering, emptiness and non-self. No matter which traditions, these teachings are the common guidelines for us to practice Buddhism. So, when things as sufferings arise, how do we approach and deal with it?
Since February 2020 till now, the world has been and is still fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been millions of deaths and even more infected, causing a lot of things to be put on standby including religious activities. Up until then, you have been free to come and go to temples, to meet monks and nuns without any restrictions. But since then, despise temples are still open, lay Buddhists still can’t gather. Everyone is afraid of being infected, so the best solution is to stay home, but even that is still not completely safe. Because before this, your husband or wife have had to go to work every day so you only see each other at home or in the weekend. Now because of the pandemic, you have to interact more often, between husband and wife, parents and children. This can give rise to problems, lead to anxiety, stress which give rise to opportunities for damage in relationships.
The adults might lose their jobs, with limited income comes finance problems which lead to stress and distance between close relatives. The only reason for this is lack of understanding, which could destroy this bubbly happiness. There are even cases of suicides, but suicide won’t solve anything, it only brings more sufferings to your love ones. The world is facing a huge challenge, so what can Buddhism or rather religion do to help us? This is a rather tricky question to answer, but first I want you to listen to a couples of my stories, then afterward you can think it over and find the answer for yourselves.
In April 2020, Italy has had a breaking number of Covic deaths and infected daily. The government tried their best to deal with it but the daily numbers of death still didn’t lower. There was a 90 years old man who was infected with Covic-19 who was brought to the hospital. He had to breath with an Oxygen-tank for more than two weeks before he got better. The day he was sent home, he held the doctor’s hand to thank him. He cried a lot, so the doctor was worried and asked: Do you not have enough money to pay the hospital? If so, I can suggest the hospital that you can pay with installments. The old man answered: No, I have no problem with payment. Why are you crying then? asked the doctor. He said, I have lived more than 90 years, I have breathed so much Oxygen in my lungs, but all that time I never paid attention to my breath. I also never appreciate the air I breath in all that time. I thank you doctor and nurses, especially the Oxygen-tank that you had been providing me with. If it wasn’t for it, I would have died a few days ago.
Another story happened in Australia. After a Dharma Talk in Sydney, a child saw me drinking milk and said: Master, you should stop drinking milk. I was surprised and asked him why? He said, you should take a look at this video, it is very good. And the story is about an animal farm in Australia that raise cows for milk. Among the herd there was a newborn calf and its mother. When the calf wanted milk and ran to his mother, he was instantly killed by the farmer. When I saw that, I thought to myself, so I have been taking milk from the little calf to use for myself. From that day, I stop drinking milk. Because it indirectly causes suffering for the calves.
The first story tells us to appreciate the things that we have and not what we are looking for. Even the bubbly happiness that we used to wish each other during joyous occasions are conditional, and not like the appreciation the old Italian man has discovered through the Oxygen in our daily breaths. Because happiness is not real. That is why humans always try to find happiness but don’t realize that real happiness is around us, in our family, friends and society. Take a look inward to realize the true cause of damage in your relationships. It certainly doesn’t come from the lack of money; it is because we don’t know how to live with it when we lose our jobs. The answer is right there in your way of view, not in society or religion.
The second story helps us to realize that all living beings have the right to live. We use our rights to be human to suppress and take away the lives of other weaker beings. The choice to not eat other lives or drink milk is individual, no one can decide for other. When I arrived in Germany from Japan 44 years ago, it was very hard to buy tofu. But now after 44 years, I can buy many vegetarian foods made from soy beans everywhere in German markets. Of course, it is not because the German have become Buddhist, it is because of compassion and respect for lives, that so many Germans now are vegetarian.
Facing the suffering of all sentient beings, the Buddhas and Boddhisattvas always observe, teach and create many different means to guide humans from ignorance to enlightenment; but we are still ignorant, hate each other, trying to kill each other. So when death is so close to us, even if the Buddhas and Boddhisattvasare near, we still won’t get salvation. The Buddha has said, he is only a teacher, a guide. He can guide us which road is dangerous which is safe; but we still choose the dangerous road. So, it is not his but our fault.
If we want to escape the suffering of Covic-19 or other sufferings of this life, each of us should realize about how we live and interact with each other, in family and society. We shouldn’t resent or find fault in other, but instead in ourselves. That way even if a great calamity decent upon us, we still won’t be disappointed. Everyone is used to find error in others, in the heaven, in Buddha, but never in one’s self.
I wish you all a Happy New Year full of peace and happiness in your daily lives.
Dharma Talk by Most Venerable Thích Như Điển
Translate into English: Thích Thông Giáo
English edited: Thích Hạnh Giới.