When a person gets regular exercise, he increases the strength of his body and mind. When water flows, it maintains its purity and clarity. In the same way, when an organization often sponsors activities for its members, it refreshes itself over and again, and thereby makes itself even more fit to fulfill its responsibilities.
My own observations of the BLIA and the activities held by BLIA chapters around the world have given me a great sense of satisfaction. If the aims of our activities are always to benefit the members of the BLIA and society at large, we cannot possibly fail to achieve our goal of spreading Buddhism. In this respect, it is important to remember that the foundation of the BLIA is one of belief in Buddhism. In a sense, we have no other foundation than our belief in the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha. Everyone who participates in BLIA activities should always bear this fact in mind. If we do, our programs will succeed in refreshing our organization, while at the same time recon- firming our faith in the Dharma.
The Toronto chapter of the BLIA sponsors many art classes. It provides classes in calligraphy, flower arranging, painting and cooking. These classes revitalize the Toronto chapter, as they provide excellent opportunities for everyone to participate in something that is held in an environment of deep belief. The BLIA chapter in Brazil has been instrumental in spreading the Dharma to Argentina and Bolivia. In addition to that, the Brazilian chapter sponsors classes on Buddhism in Brazilian colleges, and it has held meetings with Catholic organi- zations. These kinds of activities challenge and rejuvenate Buddhism, as they bring the BLIA into contact with all levels of society. The San Diego chapter has classes and services for English speakers, and it has been very active in translating Buddhist literature into English. In Hong Kong, activities involving families have brought many new members into the BLIA, while the continuing efforts of the Taiwan chapter have brought about a revitalization of Buddhism that has affected the entire society of Taiwan. In the following sections, I will discuss the value of chapter activities in more detail.
In this modern age, communication devices have developed to such a point that one hardly needs to leave home to keep informed about what is happening in the world. There are many advantages to having so much information so easily available, but it is important that none of us forget that there can be no substitute for people actually coming together in groups to communicate with one another. Groups help us learn faster, and that is why they are one of the most important tools for teaching and spreading the Dharma.
Groups force us to plan, to work with others and to cooperate. They teach us tolerance, kindness and respect. They heighten our sensitivities to the needs of others, as they provide us with excellent opportunities to learn from many different kinds of people. The Lions Club, the Jaycees and the Rotary Club all are founded on these ideas. Members of these clubs willingly pay high annual dues because the benefits of membership are very great. The BLIA is capable of confer- ring the same benefits as these clubs on its members, but in addition to that, the BLIA also teaches the Dharma, providing all of its members with the opportunity to hear and learn the truth.
I hope all members of the BLIA will view their local chapters as a means to learn and study with others in an environment of active cooperation and tolerance.
When we actively participate in BLIA activities, we expand our small selves until they are able to include many others. We open our hearts through the very process of planning and working together. When our chapters are short of money or supplies, we learn the valuable lesson of asking others to contribute. When we are short of helping hands, we learn the lesson of asking others to contribute time and energy. When we are divided in our opinions, we learn the lesson of communicating and cooperating with each other respectfully. If all of us have the same basic goals, there always will be a way to work through individual interpretations of how to achieve them.
In doing all of this, we also make new friends and learn more about ourselves. We learn new ways of approaching the practical matters of life. At the same time, we gain humility by understanding that our habitual way of doing things may not necessarily be the most effective way.
In Buddhism there is a saying, “Before you become a Buddha, make good friends.” If you want to accomplish anything in this world, you must recognize the importance of friendship. If we do not expand our relations with others, we cannot succeed in expanding our accomplishments in this world, and we certainly cannot succeed in realizing the fullness of our Buddha nature.
Planning activities with others and participating in activities are two of the finest ways available to make good friends with other people. When we plan an activity with others, it is impossible not to realize that the labors of many people are required to make our activity successful. We learn cooperation, communication and respect by working together.
Large-scale planning invariably creates mistakes, both our own and those of others. Mistakes require that we take stock of ourselves and go forward, despite what may or may not have happened. If we can succeed in moving beyond mistakes, we will learn how to face even more of life’s problems with a confident and mature attitude that does not expect everything to be perfect all the time. These experi- ences, when they form part of the consciousness of a group of people, produce an indomitable awareness of our true abilities, our strengths and our resolve.
Activities help us establish in ourselves the higher virtues of the Dharma. Through active participation we learn the virtues of friend- ship, wisdom, responsibility and compassion. These are traits that only can be established through experience. You cannot make yourself wise and responsible through reading alone. Compassion and friendship cannot be generated solely in meditation. You must interact with other people. When we deal with others on this level, we force ourselves to grow in reality, and we come very close to establishing the Pure Land in ourselves.