REFLECTION ON OTHERS’ MERITS, DEVELOPING GRATITUDE TOWARDS THEM
(CONTEMPLATING MERITS AND DEVELOPING GRATITUDE)
In the process of learning, we should look upon our teacher as a Buddha. However, whether our teacher has attained Buddhahood is not of utmost importance, the main point is that if we look upon our teacher as a Buddha, we can receive the Buddha’s blessing from our teacher. Now, I would like to share with you a story.
One day, Shu Dong Po and Fo Yin Chan Master meditated together. After a while, Shu Dong Po asked what he looked like when he was meditating? Fo Yin Chan Master replied that he resembled a Buddha. Shu Dong Po was overjoyed on hearing this. Then, Fo Yin Chan Master asked Shu Dong Po in return, “What do I look like when I was meditating?” Usually, whenever Shu Dong Po and Fo Yin Chan Master shared a conversation, Shu Dong Po was unable to gain an upper hand over Fo Yin Chan Master. And he thought to himself that he would seize this opportune chance to counteract and defeat Fo Yin Chan Master. Therefore, Shu Dong Po replied , “You resembled a lump of ‘bullshit’. After listening to Shu Dong Po’s comment, instead of going into a fit of rage, Fo Yin Chan Master merely smiled and continued with his meditation.
Shu Dong Po returned home elated with his newfound victory, anxious to share this incident with everyone at home. His sister, Shu Xiao Mei was a very wise person. Having heard what her brother had related about the incident was unable to withhold her emotions, she broke out into laughter and told her brother: “In reality, you are the one who has ended up being defeated again. This is because the Buddha is deep in Fo Yin Chan Master’s heart, that is why he sees you as a Buddha. However, you perceived Fo Yin Chan Master as a lump of bullshit because you only had a lump of bull-shit in your mind.”
The moral of this story is that as long as there is Buddha in our hearts, we will venerate our teacher like a Buddha, and the words uttered by our teacher is like the very teachings delivered by the Buddha himself. In this way, we can receive the Dharma, otherwise, we will not be able to gain any benefit from our teacher.
Undoubtedly, we need to depend on our teacher to learn and practice the Dharma; and to look upon our teacher as a Buddha. The teacher may not have attained Buddhahood, nevertheless, we can still receive Dharma from our teacher.
This refers to the reflection or contemplation on the teacher’s merits. Thus, the blessings received from looking upon our teacher as a Buddha, is likened to receiving blessings from the Buddha which is most auspicious.
Now, I would like to share with you on ‘reflecting or contemplating on the merits of others and developing gratitude towards them’ - hereafter shortened as ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’. It refers to our objective attitude towards people, incidents and things; acknowledging their efforts and contributions, benefits they have bestowed upon us and their virtues. Besides that, ‘contemplation of merits and development of gratitude’ has two “friends” ‘contemplating the faults of others and developing blame’, hereafter shortened to ‘contemplating faults and developing blame’ and ‘contemplation of leisure and development of indifference.’, hereafter shortened as ‘contemplating leisure and developing indifference’.
‘Contemplating faults and developing blame’ refers to seeing only the negative sides of people, incidents and things, harbouring and constantly blaming others for their failings.
Let me give you a real life story. A girl brought back her school report card from the school for the past semester. She obtained excellent grade in her conduct grading by the form teacher, very good grades in 2 subjects, good grades in 3 subjects, average grades in 2 subjects and she just missed the passing mark in the last subject – the grade was highlighted in red ink. When the mother saw her report card, she immediately saw the red inked grade and started scolding the girl. There was no mentioned of her conduct grade nor the academic subjects she did well.
We are all very familiar with the above story. Do you think the mother will help her daughter to do better in future? No, the daughter was very hurt; it was not the first time this happened. She was so angry with her mother that she resolved that she would get at least 2 failures in the next semester!
Imagine if the mother had done the following: first she gave the daughter positive reinforcement, praising her for the excellent conduct grade and also the 2 subjects she did very well and others she did not do that badly; then she told her that if only she obtained 2 more marks for the final subject, she would have felt better; the mother then encouraged her to try harder and offered to help her in the subject failed. If the mother had done that, her daughter would have felt good on gaining recognition on areas she did well; she would also get the encouragement and support to improve on the failed subject in future. This is an example of turning ‘contemplating faults’ into ‘contemplating merits’.
If we continue to handle things with ‘contemplating faults and developing blame’, it will create negative emotions which will affect our health. At the same time, it will also generate negative thoughts. Such negative thoughts may lead to estrangement of interpersonal relations between people. Eventually, both parties will part with ill feelings after an unpleasant confrontation. What is most dreadful about such an attitude of ‘contemplating faults and developing blame’ is that it will create the harbouring of blame, even to the extent of wanting revenge which is most grave. With these two kinds of attitude, we are not only unable to resolve problems, but instead generate more problems which eventually lead to more confrontations and clashes. In the end, we become lonely, unable to mingle with people and shunned by others; causing ourselves to lead a life of much hardship and where nobody would offer us any guidance.
For instance, in a big event, we need the cooperation from many people. But if some people amid the group should falter or fail to meet expectations, we should refrain from using a magnifying glass to scrutinize their faults. Even when we are aware of their flaws, we shouldn’t blame them. In fact, at the outset, we should feel ashamed; and self-introspect on areas which still requires rectifications and room for improvements on our part. We should reflect on our own shortcomings and praise the strengths of others. If we can practise this in the long run, we can work happily and bring joy to others too. If we only know how to reprimand others when we see their faults and are eager to take all the credit for work that others have done, we will not build good interpersonal relationships if we should handle matters in such a way we may even get entangled in bad relationships.
In conclusion, ‘contemplating faults and developing blame’ will not only deprive ourselves of the avenues for improvements but we will slack behind and even make ourselves miserable.
‘Contemplating leisure and developing indifference’ refers to the lack of enthusiasm in performing tasks and always looking forward to lesser workloads.
In an organization, if everybody has this kind of working attitude, then the relationship among the members will be distant and apathetic towards things and people around us, even to the extent of becoming self-centered and selfish. In a society, if everybody has such an attitude, it leads to the decadence of the society and at the same time risks of being exploited by people with ill intentions. How is this possible? For example, if we are apathetic towards people and things around us, and are solely concerned with our own welfare, oblivious to the needs of others then we may refuse to lend a hand even if we notice that our neighbour’s house has been broken in, in reality, are we not allowing ourselves to be exploited? Furthermore, this prevents us from seeing the reality of our problem, and as a result, we end up being exploited by people with ill intentions. We should always perform wholesome deeds, because it can help us to plant wholesome causes and build good relationships with others. In contrast, should we persist with such apathetic attitude, we will not reap wholesome benefits neither can we bring benefit to the organization nor the society as a whole.
Previously, ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’ has been mentioned. Now, let me elaborate further. Whenever we interact with people or handle matters, we should have ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’ borne in mind. In this way, it will help to alleviate our suffering and increase happiness. At the same time, we will become magnanimous and our social circle will expand too. Furthermore, we will be welcomed by people wherever we go and human relationships will improve. Therefore, if we manage things with the attitude of ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’, we will be in a better position to perceive problems in clarity, and eventually find the solutions to the problems without getting caught in trivia. Consequently, people around us would be willingly to offer us guidance and this will increase our learning opportunities.
Here, I would also like to share a story about Jesus Christ with you. A long time ago, a dog died by the roadside. Since nobody buried it, the decaying carcass emitted foul smell after a few days. The residents nearby kept on complaining of the foul smell, yet nobody was willing to bury it. Coincidentally, Jesus Christ and his disciples passed by. His disciples walked away quickly trying to avoid the foul smell. However, Jesus Christ walked alone towards the dead dog and squatted down to closely examine the carcass. Then, he told his disciples that the dog has a row of beautiful teeth. The moral of this story is that Jesus Christ, a saint, respected by many people discerns the reality which others failed to perceive. It actually concords with ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’ of Buddhism. His actions embodied the principle of “ searching for gold dust in heaps of sand”, in contrast to ‘searching for a bone inside an egg’ characterizing most people who are born experts in picking on the faults of others with a magnifying glass.
The art of interpersonal relationships is acknowledging the strengths of others rather than picking on their weaknesses. When we carry out our tasks, we should make demands on ourselves and not others. Do not fear failure, for it is through learning from failures that we grow and improve. We will also need to examine our faults because it is only through recognizing our own faults that we have the opportunity to both rectify our mistakes and will not repeat the same mistake again.
Let me share with you another story. A young girl went to participate in a special religious ceremony at a temple. The ceremony started at 4.30am. Lay devotees were led by a monk to walk three steps and take a full prostration, the whole ceremony took nearly two hours. The devotees were all lined up in rows of five. This girl had another young lady next to her, the lady was the last person in her row. In front of the young lady was an elderly lady.
The ceremony went on for about an hour, the young girl felt spiritually elated in this ceremony where everyone participated with great sincerity. Then something happened. The old lady in front of the young lady started to feel tired and took a
longer time to get up from her prostrations. The young lady behind her had to slow down also. Before long this young lady got impatient and decided to push the old lady to the side. When the young girl witnessed this, she felt very angry and thought to herself, “How can a true Buddhist do this!” Thereafter, she could not contain her anger but she managed to complete the ceremony with the others with greater effort than the first hour.
The participants then gathered at the dinning hall to have their breakfast. The young girl was still very annoyed and disturbed. The abbot came out to give a teaching to the participants. The girl did not hear any word the abbot said. When the abbot completed his teaching, she could not controlled herself anymore and went up to relate the whole incident to the abbot. The abbot turned to her and said, “As Buddhists, we should each carry a ruler (or a yard stick) and use it to measure ourselves and not others.” The young girl was very intelligent and immediately woke up from her ‘contemplating faults and developing blame’. In fact she became a nun at the same temple later.
In truth, ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’ is indeed not an easy task, because the transformation of faults into merits requires endeavour and proper mindfulness. Thus, we should fulfil wholesome deeds and undertake ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’ as wholesome deeds as well, reviewing and noting it down. Every night, before retiring to bed, we should reflect on faults that we may have committed throughout the day and understand that negative thoughts do not bring any benefit to our lives. Inversely, the mental attitude of – ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’ will help to prevent vile situations from occurring. We should also learn to forgive others and render support to their accomplishments, in this way new horizons of life are open to us.
In order to fulfil ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’, at the outset, we must have the guidance of a good teacher, reminders from a good friend, nurtured in a conducive environment, not fearing failure and unremitting efforts in practice. Moreover, we should constantly motivate each other and understand the following principles:
What is bad, both in the present as well as in future
- should never be done.
What is good in the present but bad in future
- should not be done.
What is bad in the present but will be good in future
- can be done with much reluctance.
What is good both in the present as well as in future
- must be done.
‘Contemplating merits and developing gratitude’ is something which is good both in the present as well as in the future and we shall learn to practise it well.
We should understand that everybody has the potential for the affinity towards wholesomeness, therefore we should support ‘contemplating merits and developing gratitude’ with actual action. If everybody can practise it, there will be big improvements in human relations in this organization. And at the same time, we can create a better environment for members to cultivate together. We should always bear in mind that we will be able to reap boundless benefits if we apply the Dharma that we have learnt in our daily lives.