English | Vietnamese
My Mom and Buddhism
A TALK GIVEN BY THIEN NGUYEN ON SEPTEMBER 19, 2007 IN THE BUDDHAHALL AT THE CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
Vajra Bodhi Sea issue 450 November, 2007 (p. 31 - 34)
Since we just finished the Earth Store Bodhisattva session, tonight I thought it would be a good idea to talk about my 1st teacher and greatest Buddhist influence. I would like to talk to you about my mom and also about Buddhism and my experience being here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. This talk is especially for the children and young people in the Assembly.
I am the oldest of 3 children: I have a brother and a sister. The 3 of us are very blessed to have such a great mom. My mom is very compassionate and she is very devoted to Buddhism. Growing up she was our biggest role model and teacher. She did many kind and generous things for many people, including her 3 children and husband. This had a deep impact on me growing up.
It was my Mom who took me here about 11 years ago when I was still in high school. Our visit was during a Gwan Yin session and about the only things I remembered from that weekend were the beautiful chanting, the rigorous schedule, and the delicious food. However, for most of my life before and after that visit, although I called myself a Buddhist, I didn't deeply understand the teachings or how to actually practice.
When I'm not here, I live in the Bay Area, and have been living there for the past 6 years. I consider Oakland my home where I have a community of good friends. A few years ago, at the end of 2005, one of our friends committed suicide. It was a shock to our entire community, and the loss was very difficult for my friends and I. Our friend was a kind, cheerful, wonderful person who must have been suffering greatly, but nobody knew because he kept in hidden from everyone. So we also suffered greatly after he passed, and we didn't know how to overcome our suffering in skillful ways. Many of us became depressed, socially withdrawn, and drinking alcohol heavily. This event was a painful reminder of the 1st Noble Truth of Suffering. My friend was still young: He was barely past 30 years old.
It was at this point that I knew I had to take some time off and dedicate myself to my Buddhist practice, so I could try to help myself, my friends and family, and all living beings overcome life's suffering and sorrow. I knew there was a better way to live life, a path to liberation, and because of my mom's influence, I had faith that this way and this path was the Triple Jewel: The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
I was fortunate enough to spend 3 weeks here last summer, and I had such a great experience I knew I had to come back and stay for a longer period of time so that I could deepen my practice and understanding of the Dharma. So I made the decision to come back this summer. My Mom wasn't very happy about this idea. Not at all. She's Buddhist but she's also very practical, demanding, hard to please. AND she's a MOM. She wants me to build a career and make some money. She also had concerns about my health. Of course I was surprised at her lack of support, since she was the one who had inspired me to cultivate in the first place.
But I was determined to come here, so after quitting my job, saying goodbye to my friends and girlfriend, and moving out of my apartment, I came back here in July. Looking back on this decision, I believe that I wasn't going against what my Mom asked me to do, but rather I believe I was reminding her of what she has asked me to do my whole life: to cultivate.
Being here has been a life-changing experience. I've learned so much about Buddhism and about life, have had the opportunity to cultivate in a supportive environment, and I've met many good people and made some great Dharma friends. I have been humbled and challenged in many ways. I constantly deal with exhaustion, health problems, false thinking. My greed, hatred, and delusion are constantly coming up. Some nights I go to bed aching and sore from working on the farm. So being here, you really begin to understand the meaning of "bitter practice, sweet mind."
But after a while the practice can actually become more sweet than bitter. Buddhist practice for me is centered around the cultivation of 2 main things: wisdom and compassion.
Before I continue I would like to ask the Assembly to answer a riddle. It is based on a story that is not based on Buddhist tradition, but is a story that I think Buddhists can appreciate:
Once there was a wise but very greedy god that discovered the secret to happiness and liberation. He didn't want to share this secret with anybody, especially humans, so he decided to hide this secret somewhere in the universe where human beings would never ever even think about looking. So does anyone know where he hid the secret of happiness and liberation?
The answer is the mind.
The human mind is such an immeasurably powerful thing. From the Dharma, I've learned that in order for me to become wise, skillful, and liberated from all greed, hatred, and delusion, I have to develop a concentrated and virtuous mind. Without virtuous and concentrated minds, we could not cultivate or recite the Buddha's name or hold the precepts or help other livings beings or become enlightened. The human mind is therefore the basis for all our aspirations and practices as disciples of the Buddha. The mind makes suffering possible and it also makes liberation possible.
I learned that in order to have deep insight in the truths of impermanence, suffering, and nonself, I have to first hold the precepts as the moral foundation of my practice and then still my mind by cultivating mindfulness of reality within and around me and mindfulness of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Only then can I really develop prajna and liberate my mind for the benefit of all living beings.
The other important aspect of my practice is the cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness. I believe that one of the most important things we can do as disciples of the Buddha to benefit living beings is to cultivate compassion and loving-kindness. Because of this, I work hard to be the most kind and loving and positive person I can possibly be.
By loving-kindness, I mean the strong wish and hope for the welfare, happiness and liberation of all living beings.
When we cultivate kind thoughts over and over again, we are training our minds and expand the capacity of our minds to be more compassionate. By doing that we are walking the path of the Bodhisattva and doing the work of Bodhisattvas. This is one of the greatest ways that the Triple Jewel benefits living beings. I sincerely believe that the power of compassion, loving-kindness, and wisdom are boundless and immeasurable, and that a compassionate loving enlightened mind can affect the entire universe.
It was my Mom that made it possible for me to understand all this. She did this by teaching me about the Buddha's path and inspiring me to try my best to walk it. Thanks to her and other Buddhist teachers in my life, I deeply believe the Triple Jewel is the most powerful and the greatest vehicle to reach liberation and freedom.
So last Monday was my 29th birthday, or what some Buddhists like to call "continuation day." I was talking to my mom on the phone when something amazing happened. She told me certain things I've haven't ever heard her say before:
1. First, she said that my Buddhist practice and knowledge has surpassed hers. Of course I don't believe this at all, but I think that's her way of saying that she's proud of and happy for me.
2. She also said she tell all her friends that her oldest son lives and practice at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
3. Finally, she told me that when I come home to see her and my dad, she would like for us to do sitting and walking meditation and recite sutras together.
I thought I was dreaming or hallucinating or something, but I wasn't. It was a major breakthrough for my Mom and I, because now we are not only mother and son, teacher and student; we are now also Dharma friends.
Our parents are not only our parents, they are our 1st teachers. We must always be mindful of this. We can never repay their kindness over so many years and lifetimes, but the best we can do is respect them, honor them, and have the sincere aspiration to cultivate. I only thing that I encourage parents out there to do is to try your best to be understanding and compassionate with your children, not only when it comes to their aspirations and goals, but also their suffering. Young people go through so much today, so it's important they have parents that support them.
There are many ways for us young people to repay the kindness of our parents. I know that I can never give my Mom lots of money, a big house, or fancy cars, but I know I can give her the best gift of all, the gift of Dharma. And I also know that because of my ignorance and unskillfulness, I have caused her and my dad much suffering and sorrow. So now it's my turn to repay my Mom for all that she has done for me, and also to strive diligently to benefit not only her but all livings beings.
I would like to thank the Assembly for the opportunity to share with you tonight, Like Berhen who spoke last weekend, I'm also just a baby when it comes to Buddhism. I see many of your faces every day but I don't know many of your names, but I wanted you to know that I'm grateful to have the opportunity to be apart of this community and to cultivate with you.
I would like to end with a short meditation on loving-kindness:
May all living beings be free of suffering, pain, and sorrow,
May all living beings become compassionate and wise and skillful,
May all living beings leave behind this shore of suffering and sorrow and cross over to the shore of liberation and peace,
May all livings beings enter and dwell in the Pure Land,
May all livings beings become Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
A Mi To Fwo.