Good relations among people depend on present conditions, karmic fruits, and the positive energies generated among the people in question. “If you want to become a Buddha, first become a good human being.”
We can become good people through practicing human virtues. And we can become even better people by bringing the transcendental truths of Buddhism to bear on all of our actions. As Buddhists, all of us should understand the powerful interplay between present conditions and karmic energies. None of us can escape the laws of karma or the imperatives of the conditions in which we find ourselves. All of us, however, are more than capable of making the most of every situation. Karmic laws can shut us away in a prison of our own device, but they also can release us as soon as we begin to behave in wise accordance with our imperatives.
In the following sections, I will discuss some of the ways we can bring positive energy to bear on our conditions so that maximum good will is generated.
Positive energy among people is stimulated through wise generosity. I have often spoken in this letter about giving the best of yourself to others, because this is the greatest form of generosity on earth. Having recognized this, it is valuable to recognize that material generosity also has many uses.
Being generous with our possessions teaches us to be unattached, while it also helps others and gives them joy. It is good to give things to people. Buddhists should always give without expecting anything in return. In its highest form, generosity has no giver, no gift and no recipient. Giving smooths relations and shows others that we care about them. Gifts do not need to be large, but they should be thoughtful, and they should never produce feelings of shame or indebtedness in the one who receives them.
Sometimes by receiving, we give. A Buddhist should never refuse the honest generosity of another. When we gladly receive a gift from another, we accept their friendship and we give them an opportunity to practice generosity and gain the merits that accrue from that. Sometimes it “costs” us more to receive than to give! But this is the way it is. Compassion always is able to see above the minor confusions of values exchanged or debts incurred.
Give with your whole heart in the fullness of compassion and nothing but good will come of it.
There is a Buddhist saying that goes like this: “Everyone we see is connected to us. How can I not be joyful all the time?”
Joy is the basis of all compassionate gifts.
Language is the principal system of our minds. It would be impossible to form higher motivations without language, and without language, we would not be able to learn the Dharma. Our use of language determines the kinds of friends we have and the quality of our relations with them. Language is a force that issues from us to affect the world around us. All of us must recognize the central importance of what we say and the way we say it in everything we do.
I have spoken at length about the need for bringing virtue to our use of language. The very sound of our words should be as compassionate as our best intentions. Language must be used virtuously, but language also needs to be used intelligently. Speaking compassionately does not mean simply coating our words with sugar and smiling as we mouth them. Our intentions must be compassionate for our words to be compassionate.
Whenever we speak, we speak “from some place,” and speak to someone. Our words issue from a “place” within us. More than the meaning of our words, it is the “place” from which we speak that others hear. This “place” is a deep mystery that can be plumbed only in deep contemplation and during meditation. When this “place” becomes compassionate, and when it is illuminated by the light of wisdom, your words will be perfect, your friendships will be harmonious, and your ability to speak about the Dharma will be convincing.
Turn your mind in on itself. Be careful not to stand in a “place” of ill will while using language that seems compassionate. In doing this you are lying to yourself and to others at once. Turn the meaning of your words on yourself. Are you sure you think and do what you have learned to say?
The fundamental way we develop good relations with others is through positive energy and compassion. Just as generosity and language can be the currency of virtue, so too can good deeds. Good deeds, and indeed all help we bring to others, must never be motivated by selfishness. We do not help others in order to get something from them, but rather to bring them closer to the Dharma by showing our concern for them. Good deeds can take many forms. We can help people learn, we can help them write, and we can help them read. We can do small things, too, like opening the door for others, waiting for them to take something first, listening to them or just spending time with them.
In this, as in all things, the secret of building good relations with others is to be motivated by kindness and to be intelligent in our compassion. If we are thoughtful, we will find that each one of us is capable of producing enormous positive energy. If everyone in the BLIA can keep this in mind, the BLIA will succeed one day in making this world into a Pure Land.
“A magnificent inheritance is not equal to the value of a single skill.”
This old saying cuts right to the heart of truth. If you have a skill, you can go anywhere and be productive. If you have no skills, it hardly matters where you are; you will not be able to contribute. People with skills help themselves as they help others because their work is needed by society.
Modern societies, especially, require a high level of skill development. Since the world now is so complex, it is absolutely essential that parents understand the need for their children to acquire useful skills. We cannot expect young people to understand the importance of learning while they are still young. If parents wait too long to communicate to their children the importance of having a useful skill, they eventually will cause their children and themselves much trouble. Everyone can be trained to do something useful. It is very important that parents help their children discover their talents and interests so that their children will be in a position to be independent and self-se- cure when they become adults.
Once we have acquired a skill, we should use it to benefit all of society. As we become older, we should look for ways to teach younger people what we know. You may have great skills, but if you do not pass them on to the next generation, your contribution to the world will pass away with you.
The greatest skill of all is comprehending Buddhism and effectively working to spread the Dharma. The BLIA is dedicated to producing people with these skills. Once again, I want to encourage members of the BLIA to become lay preachers.
Buddhism has given each and every one of us joy and the security of knowing how to behave in this life. These gifts provide us with emotional well-being and spiritual understanding, and for that we must be deeply grateful. At the same time, these gifts can be thought of as skills we have learned. The effective practice of Buddhism is a skill. In some ways, it is just like any other skill. It can be learned, and it can be taught. Once we have learned how to practice Buddhism, it is only natural that we should want to look for ways to share what we know. By training to become a lay preacher within the BLIA, you will learn to share what you know with others. Training takes time. The thoughtful compassion that forms the basis of anyone’s desire to become a teacher is one of the highest virtues in life.
When we share Buddhism with others, we create the finest foundation possible on which to base our friendships. At the same time, we enter a stream of energy that transcends all human difference, all time and all space.