On Wednesday, October 19th, we held the first of our discussion group in SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). The topic, titled above, is part of Ven. Master Sheng-yen’s video series called ‘Ch’an in Daily Life’. We held one mediation before watching the video, a synopsis is below:
Gain and Loss:
From birth we are conditioned to view the world as a personal ordeal of gain and loss. Every situation that presents itself is viewed from the point of view of ‘how can I benefit’. When we get our own way, we tend to be complaisant, unaware that the situation will change. When there is a loss of time, relationship, material goods, money we see this as suffering and do not wish to repeat it. To let go of the mentality of ‘gain and loss’ is desirable but difficult.
Every Day is a good day
Ch’an Master Yun-men once said, “Every day is a good day.” This is not our experience though. On a daily basis, we are buffeted emotionally by the changing nature of people, things and situations around us. The living environment that envelopes us therefore is determining our mental state, like a small boat on a stormy sea. Being prey to the day-to-day environment around us is something we are born to, from the moment we take our first breath, nevertheless, it is our goal for our mind to remain unmoved though the living environment may churn around us.
Broad-minded and Long-term Approach of the bodhisattva
Not allowing one’s mind to change with the shifting situations in our lives is not easy since day-to-day living is filled with issues of right and wrong, gain and loss. We can improve situations as they arise but often they cannot be improved and in these cases, we need to look at the larger picture, as the bodhisattva does. This larger picture means looking beyond the focus of personal gain or loss and instead looking at improving things for all. By not focusing on our personal perspective, we can disengage emotionally from the realm of gain and loss.
The answer is to think, speak and act in such a way that we do not harm to the natural course of events, that is, harm it by imposing our need for gain, our ‘self’. Further, through the application of prajna (wisdom) we must do what we can to influence others to not harm the living environment by trying to control it for themselves. This is how the mind changes with the living environment and the living environment changing with the collective ‘Mind’ of others.
Ordinary Point of View
Ordinary people are continually disturbed by the motive of’ gain and loss’. It is a constant source of agitation that disturbs their minds and prevents the natural serenity from coming through. This is the dualistic point of view that continues to drive their karma.
Buddhist Point of View
The Buddhist point of view is that when good or bad things happen, it is a result of past karma and this should be our starting point. Additionally, Buddhism teaches that all gain and loss is superficial and impermanent and thus is arbitrary. They are a manifestation of ‘self’, of subject and object and so disappears as the dualistic state of all things is gradually realised by the Mind.
Sheng-yen does not ask us to behave as selflessly as a bodhisattva, but to gradually train our mind to see things more broadly and act less selfishly and, through example, influence others to follow.
What is meant when Sheng-yen says ‘environment’?
He is speaking of the living environment around us as we go through life. The day-to-day situations that arise around us that cause us to try to influence and the change events that impact on our lives. Another term for this is ‘sphere of influence’. This term is often used for the bodhisattva where datu is the usual Sanskrit term. Our own sphere of influence is what Shifu is referring to when our motives are focused on gain and loss. A bodhisattva’s motives are not these but rather what Shifu refers to as influencing others to adopt a ‘non-self’ attitude to living. This is the way that bodhisattvas transform the world. We are very poor bodhisattvas but we are bodhisattvas in the making nonetheless. Our datu, our sphere of influence is small whereas that of the bodhisattva is without limit. Even so, each of us acting individually and collectively can transform the world.
What do you think?
Please view the video and tell us what you think.