I remember looking out into the eyes of thousands of people once when I was preaching in Hong Kong. The year was 1992, and we were gathered in the Hong Kong Coliseum. As I looked at all those eyes, I felt as if I could actually see the inner longing that had motivated each and every person in that building to come to hear the Dharma that night. Later, as I reflected on that experience, I thought of all the members of the BLIA and what their needs must be. In the following section, I will discuss this topic in some detail.
I remember when I was a boy, once I went up to Master Daxing and said to him, “All Buddhism needs to be successful is to have ten monastics who are united!”
Now that I am older, I realize that in addition to the ten monastics, Buddhism also needs to have dedicated lay followers if it is to flourish. In earlier passages, we have discussed at some length the need for unity among Buddhists and the ways that unity can benefit Buddhism. In this passage, I would like to turn the subject around and look at how individual Buddhists themselves can be benefited by unity.
Unity is a two-way street. Unity makes an organization strong, but it also makes the individuals within an organization strong. When we ask people to contribute time and energy to the unity of the BLIA, we must also be sure that they receive ample spiritual benefits in their own lives as compensation for their efforts. Each member of the BLIA should be able to draw on the BLIA for emotional and spiritual support in the same way that the members of a family draw on each other for support. This does not mean that our generosity has strings attached to it. It means only that at some levels we fully recognize that energy always flows two ways. As a member of the BLIA, you have a respon- sibility to contribute to the BLIA, but you also have a right to take something from it. You have a right to expect other members to be helpful and honest. And you have a right to expect that your needs for community and unity will be met to the same extent that you are willing to meet others’ needs.
Whenever we build community, we must be certain that all members receive the benefit of unity. A community is not a community without a fair distribution of benefit, and no one will stay n a community for long if they receive nothing from it. It is our job as members of the BLIA to see that other people’s needs are met, but it is also our responsibility to see that our own needs are satisfied. If there are issues you feel are not being discussed, bring them up. If you have talents that you feel are not being used, offer them. Whenever we think of our own needs, it is important that we not become self-centered. However, it is worth remembering, too, that all ideas start with someone and that even the longest journey must begin with a single step.
Buddhism in the past has suffered more than once from division and doctrinaire separations. As we seek to meet our own needs within the BLIA, we must also be sure that our actions do not create division. All of us are Buddhists. All of us are united under the name and example of Sakyamuni Buddha. By working together to build the best organization we are capable of, each one of us will succeed in deriving benefit from the BLIA as we contribute to it.
Community transcends the individual, and by doing that, it also fulfills the individual in the most complete way possible. Community, by definition, is an ongoing interaction of the self with others. It is important that all of us be aware of the deep emotions that produce community, and that all of us be considerate of those emotions as they are manifest in ourselves and in others.
There is nothing more important for Buddhism today than unity. All over the world there are schools and branches of Buddhism. This diversity is good, but over and above our divisions, Buddhists every- where must recognize our central unity. When we recognize the truth of, as well as the need for, unity among the world’s Buddhists, each one of us begins to benefit in subtle, but very powerful ways.
Unity among us required that all of us have open minds. It requires that all of us practice compassion among the very people who are closest to us. Unity challenges us to find common ground with others, as it forces us to expand our thinking beyond its habitual constraints.
Whenever Buddhists in history have been united, Buddhism has flourished. Chan became a great school during the Tang dynasty because Chan Buddhists were united at that time. Unity does not mean that each and every person must think alike. Unity means only that each and every person agree to be a positive and harmonious member of a larger group.
Buddhism has always been an immensely tolerant religion. For Buddhists to unite today, there is no need for us to hammer out dogmas or plaster over our differences. All that is needed is that we agree to emphasize our similarities as we do our best to work together.
Remember, the Buddhism we cherish today is here only because Buddhists in the past kept the tradition vibrant and alive. If their contri- butions had been fractious and divisive, or if they had been rigid in their thinking, Buddhism would never have become a part of so many of the world’s cultures; and we would not have today the expansive libraries of Buddhist literature that exist in so many languages.
Unity asks that we give of ourselves, but it also challenges us to find the best in ourselves. By working for unity in the BLIA, and with other Buddhists, we ensure that our contributions to our religion will be received by later generations with fully as much gratitude as we now receive the contributions made by Buddhists of the past.
For years, I have been preaching the value of activity. Buddhists sometimes tend to become passive and too reserved in their practice. Passivity not only has a dampening effect on the growth of Buddhism as a whole, it also stifles the growth of the individual. When we become inactive, we tend to stop challenging ourselves. We discover a low level of comfort in meditation and reading and decide for ourselves that is all we need. When we get to that point, we will be of small benefit to our temple and of little use even to ourselves.
When once we decide to become active in our practice, however, many avenues of growth immediately begin to open before us. Active participation requires maturity and open-mindedness. It requires that we practice compassion daily and that we employ our wisdom in many different kinds of situations.
Activity produces energy. It makes us strong, and it encourages us to be positive and cooperative with everyone. When our willingness to be active members of the BLIA is joined with the willingness of other members, wondrous energies are released. Our chapters will benefit immediately from our enthusiasm, just as each one of us who participates actively will feel a new source of fulfillment and contentment in life.
Remember, the bodhi mind is not a thing, and it is certainly not a rocking chair. The bodhi mind, as it is manifest in us, is our very desire to learn and grow and participate. When we actively accept these magnificent energies, our family lives are improved and our professional lives are elevated. Positive activity alone has the power to bring our practice of Buddhism very close to its ultimate fulfillment. You will feel the difference.
How you choose to be active is up to you. The BLIA provides many opportunities for all of us to be active in ways that suit us best. If you have an idea that is not being implemented, it may be that all the idea lacks is your energy. You do not have to wait for others to approve of everything you want to do. If you believe in your idea, and if it is harmonious with the ideals of the BLIA, there will be room for it somewhere. The BLIA needs people who are willing to take the initiative.
There is so much for us to do! We need to study and learn. We need to teach and help others. We need to uphold the precepts, as we deepen the original energy that made us take refuge in Buddhism in the first place. If we start with ourselves, and then begin to include those who are near us, we will ultimately succeed in changing this world for the better. The only obstacles between us and a Pure Land are negative energies and the defilement of not trying.
In May 1992, at the first convention of the BLIA, I chose the theme of “Joy and Acceptance.” I chose this theme because I wanted to encourage members of the BLIA to serve the world with an attitude of joy and acceptance. Acceptance is a great virtue, and it is a great strength. When we are accepting of others, our ability to unite and form a lasting, solid community is much enhanced. Lay followers need to learn to accept the ways of monastics, whose lives are very different from most people’s. And monastics need to accept, also, that lay followers have to live in a world whose demands are different from theirs. All of us must accept each other. Acceptance is a first step. From there, we can begin to practice compassion, tolerance, wisdom and patience.
When we are accepting of the styles and ways that people choose to live, we open ourselves to seeing everyone in a way that is much deeper than any other. Automatic habits of criticism and judgment belong among the defilements of greed, ignorance and anger. They are not motivated by anything else. Our goal is to preach the Dharma all over the world. Can we possibly succeed in this if we are narrow-mind- ed and quick to reject new ideas?
Acceptance is not something that is only to be practiced in international situations when our environment has primed us to be open-minded. Acceptance also must be practiced at home. It must be practiced with our families and friends, and with the other members of our BLIA chapter. We need to be accepting of big things, but sometimes it is even more important to be accepting of small things. Life is full of small differences. People react differently to the same situation. Some people are sensitive, and others are not. All of us have different habits and professions. Some people are very precise, while others naturally tend to see large generalities. We need to accept that this is true. This is the way life is. If we choose to be friends only with people who look and think the way we do, we reduce ourselves and diminish our opportunities to grow and learn.
Deep down all people want the same things. No one who has ever glimpsed the bodhi mind could ever want to pursue anything else. All of us in the BLIA have seen the reality of the bodhi mind and the profundity of Prajna wisdom. We would not have become Buddhists if we had not. In this very significant sense, we all are the same, and we all have the same basic belief. Once we have recognized this, accep- tance of others can only flow naturally.
Acceptance is best practiced by practicing it. If you find yourself turning away from someone just because of something they have said or the way they look, ask yourself if your reaction is stemming from wise acceptance or from something else. The Buddha taught 84,000 ways of reaching the truth. Do you think he ever turned away from anyone?
Respect, tolerance, patience and acceptance all go hand in hand.
You cannot really have one without the others.