I recently met someone who’s considering to donate a Guan Yin statue, a 12 foot tall Guan Yin statue to our temple. And it’s interesting because of her unique situation.
When I asked her why was she thinking of doing this, she said, “I prayed to Guan Yin when I was in trouble. I received her help so now I want to donate a statue to show my gratitude.”
She had a liver transplant. It went so well and so smoothly that she made sizable donations in honor of Guan Yin Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha. It’s a beautiful statue of Guan Yin sitting on a dragon. It was carved in Vietnam and it’s breath-taking. So I said, “That’s very commendable that you wish to make this donation. I’m hoping that the merit and virtue you will receive will enable you to reduce the medications you are taking.” She takes about 20 pills a day and most of them will be for the rest of her life.
You may be surprised by the next thing I told her. I suggested that she donate this spectacular statue to a bigger temple because of the greater blessings she will obtain. We are a small temple and we aren’t worthy of such a generous donation. Additionally there aren’t many people who come, so she’s better off donating it to a bigger temple where more blessings will accrue. The statue will be seen by many more people and Guan Yin Bodhisattva will be able to reach more people in need.
Contrary to what you might think, this is the best decision for all concerned. It’s to her benefit that she gives it to a bigger temple. In comparison, we are a minor temple with a small following. We need to keep our greed in check and focus on humility and our commitment to cultivate. You see, this is what we do. This is the spirit of what my teachers taught their disciples. It’s very Chinese and it’s very Buddhist. We need to yield to benefit others. Cultivation is not about benefiting yourself, not at all.
Terrified of Being Wrong
One of my disciples came to talk to me. “Yesterday I revealed a secret to someone,” she said “but I don’t remember who I told!” There are two fears here. There’s the fear of exposing one’s faults to someone who perhaps might not be discreet. The other is the greater of the two, the fear of the secret itself. She made a decision that will affect her son. I said, “All of us have this secret fear; we’re terrified of being wrong. You don’t want your son to think you made the wrong choice.” We make so many important decisions for our children that will affect their future. We dare not make a mistake.
It’s frightening to be wrong because you’ll lose face. That is a common fear among Asians but it’s not just Asians that feel this way. We all do. In particular we worry that we’ve lost the respect of our loved ones.
It’s my secret fear too.
It’s our common secret.
And the people of the world disguise their fear by making sure they get ahead: they go for profit. Because when you gain money, fame or power, how can you be wrong?
Taking a Loss to Benefit Others
When I was in the business world, I was paranoid about staying competitive and achieving success. I used to think that every action I took had to benefit me in some way. Otherwise, I thought, people would laugh at me because they would see me as a failure. Back then I was so worldly but in reality, I was unbelievably ignorant. After I became a monk and started propagating the Dharma, I found myself doing exactly the opposite. Rather than thinking of myself and personal benefits, I now prefer to take a loss to benefit others.
When I’m faced with a problem and if it’s the right thing to do, I ask myself, am I prepared to “take a loss?” Someone is bound to. Everyone is out to gain, to benefit, and to profit. But the flip side is someone else is going to fail.
I try to follow the example of my Chinese Master and the patriarchs. They taught their students by their actions and they preferred to take losses. They were never about personal gain and benefit. When you practice giving then automatically it means that you lose in some way, either personally, emotionally, or financially.
Some people are confused as to what exactly is giving, so let me explain. If you give something away that you don’t like, that’s not true giving. That kind of giving is the same as when you donate old clothes to charity: you don’t really want them anymore. But let’s say you love your car, or you cherish a piece of jewelry or your home, or choose an amount of money that’s more than you would ever want to spend, and you decide to give that away. That’s true giving because it matters to you. When you practice this kind of giving you will experience a bigger loss, and that’s the spirit of giving that I’m talking about. It is more meritorious when it hurts a little bit.
There is something worth emulating in Great Master Xuan Hua’s decision to eat one meal a day so that his left home people wouldn’t compete with lay people for their scant meals, or his decision to not ask for donations so his left home peers would find success. We too should live a simple and humble life and not indulge ourselves or seek fame.
By spreading and sharing losses with others you are making life more pleasant for everyone around you. When you are constantly thinking and plotting for your own benefit, believe me, you are so unkind! To always be the winner skews your personality and your outlook on life. If we are the only ones benefiting, then those close to us are most likely the ones who are suffering and as a result, life is very hard for them. So my attitude is, let me take a loss to make life more satisfying for the people around me.
I hope that more of you will adopt this attitude where you deliberately opt to lose so that others can benefit. In doing so you are becoming more compassionate and are making your community a better place. If you are thinking this is completely unfair, you are absolutely right! I’m sure you will hear others say “If you are like that people will take advantage of you.” If you enjoy helping others, then you won’t mind. But if you don’t, maybe you can try this approach: Think that you owe them (they helped you in a previous life) and therefore you should pay up.
On Letting Go
When you let go, it’s all or nothing.
When you let go, you are letting go of all of your attachments. Let’s say you are being generous to someone. Maybe this person is taking advantage of you. What I’m asking you to do is for you to continue being generous. The reason is because in the process of giving you are letting go of your attachment to money. Don’t worry if they are taking advantage of you. Concentrate on learning to be more generous. That way, they can no longer afflict you.
It’s unpleasant to be played for a fool. The common approach would be to stop, but that’s the wrong attitude.
Instead, you should say “go ahead”. You know they are taking advantage of you and you still give in. That’s generosity. Who’s the winner? You are, because you are being virtuous.
You never lose when you choose to give.
And if they don’t appreciate it, then shame on them. Instead of judging them, you should pity them and continue to be generous.
You are so kind and so good that people step all over you and take advantage of you. The more you give, the more they take. “Is that all you’ve got?” they ask. “Why are you so stingy?”
When you are able to give it’s not a problem. But there will come a time that you’ll be at the end of your rope. You will have nothing left and they will still expect a hand out.
The next time they ask, this is your chance to teach. Tell them that they are being too greedy and unreasonable, that they don’t deserve your generosity and then you do the unexpected: you stop giving.
Give until you no longer can. That’s how generous we should learn to become. Give until it’s time to stop.
Someone asked what if they keep taking advantage of you at work, when do you stop?
I submit to you: you don’t stop. When you stop prematurely, you will not unfold your wisdom.
* * * * *
The moral of the story is: To be generous, one should learn to give completely. One should learn to give it all. Please learn to let go. That is self-mastery. That is truer happiness.