Practice In Any Circumstance

Many people think that practicing is reserved for the people who are healthy or have free times. For those who are poor or working from morning until night, there's not enough time to practice. Thinking that they are blessed and have everything in life, some people do think that only those who don't have enough blessings, are disabled or abandoned will need to practice. Even some think that only those, who are sinful or evil, need to atone for their sinful acts. Because of those types of thoughts, people have no consideration of practicing. However, they do not know that everyone of us has a mixture of good and bad thoughts. If they let bad thoughts freely arise in mind, then they will have an uncontrolled life (living with their instincts or human nature) of sins and depreciation of moral values. It's a practitioner's duty to restraint the bad thoughts so that they can be diminished and to stimulate the good thoughts so that they can be well developed. Diminishing bad thoughts and developing good thoughts are the behaviors of a moral human who will do things which are beneficial to other people. So, is there any circumstance that we cannot practice in?

Practice In A Busy Setting

There are many people who are so busy with their family's life as they wake up early in the morning to open the business at the marketplace and come back home at night. Then, they have to take care the children until real late. Thus, where can they find the time to practice? If they're asked to recite or count the beads, it's impossible. But, a practice is to simply let go the bad thoughts, stop telling bad words, and stop all evil acts, meanwhile, develop good thoughts, say good words, and make good deeds. How much of time does it take us to do these things? When we do business, it is the right time for us to practice. If we have good thoughts, courteous behaviors, and say good words, the customers will like and appreciate us. Therefore, the more customers like to do business with us, the more successful our business will be. A lady is willing to sell her merchandise for $1000 even though she has posted it for $2000. Ironically, a customer makes an offer for $300. In this situation, if the seller doesn't know to practice, she will get irritated to argue with the customer. A big dispute occurs. On the other hand, if she knows how to practice, she can just simply smile with a gentle reply, "I'm sorry. It's not the right price for me to sell you the product." So, everything is settled as no one suffers the loss. There is a chance that the customer will come back next time to buy her merchandises. In any undesired situation, if we know to control our temper, find a humble way to communicate, and maintain a composed manner, we are clever in our practice. Every day, undesirable matters occur continuously at the marketplace. Therefore, practicing is necessary for the people who live in this type of setting. That is why there was an old saying, "Practice at the marketplace first, then in the mountain."

As farmers, our thoughts of working hard to serve rice to our family and distributing them to other people while we are working in the fields are good thoughts. This is already a practice. By feeling unjealous when seeing our neighbor's crop field is much better than ours and happy for his/her success, we already know to practice. While working in the field or embanking a trench, if we know to terminate bad thoughts and develop good ones, we are already in practice. One strike to the soil is a praying to the Buddhas or a strike to the diamond ground. This is a practice.

Students have a better condition to practice since their major focus is just the studying. While attending school, they only think about "study hard so that in the future they can support their parents when they are old and make a contribution to develop a better country." This is a practice. When they listen well and study hard to repay the teaching effort of the teachers, they are in practice. Helping and loving other students who have less learning ability than they have is a knowing of practice. When they feel unenvied and respectful to their class mates, who are better students than them, they have a mind of a practitioner. A practitioner is a person who knows to correct his/her mistakes without any complaint or anger. The future society will be better and brighter because of these buds (youngsters), who know how to practice.

Practice In A Difficult Condition

Yes, we can be poor because of our deficiency in money or materials; however, we are not poor in thoughts, speeches, and actions. Transforming the thoughts, speeches, and acts from bad to good is a practice. We don't need money, materials, or pleasure time in order to practice. Right in our poor and hard life, the practice is needed. Having a good heart, good deeds and speeches, a poor person may improve his/her living condition through people's help. Contrarily, if he/she is mean in speeches and acts, his/her living condition will become worse because no one is willing to help him/her. Besides, having a pure and bright mind, good speeches, and noble acts, we always feel joyful in any circumstance that we live in. Husband and wife respect each other, children obey their parents, and parents love their kids are the conditions of a life of sharing (a split of a grain of salt). What an ideal life it is!

Practice In An Unhealthy Condition

It's a typical misperception that illnesses are the obstacle of practicing. If we consider chanting or meditation as a practice, then it will be an obstacle for us when we are ill because of our physical limitations. But, keep in mind that the goal of the practice is to prevent annoyances and control false thoughts. Thus, we can still practice even when we can't meditate or chant. For those who are so ill that they cannot get up, pray to the Buddhas is one of the good practicing methods. They can concentrate on their praying regardless of the surrounding environments. How could this be an obstacle? This is called the "Pure Land" practicing method. For those who prefer contemplations, they can do so by contemplating that their body is impermanent, filthy, uncontrolled, and the root of sufferings. Having such thorough contemplations and being able to discern the true identity of the body during the illness will open their mind to the state of Nirvana. This is a Zen practice. Unfortunately, most Buddhists practice exertively when they are healthy. When they are ill, they feel withdrawn and become annoyed about their family members. We should understand that we need to practice when we are healthy so that we will have enough strength to continue when we are ill. It is the moment that we are getting closer to death and the last minute of our fight with it. If we stop at this point to yield to a different direction, our practice will become useless. Hence, as Buddhists, we should realize that it is a good opportunity for us to practice when we are ill. We have to devote our mind power into the practice and always keep it focused. If we can accomplish these steps, we will get closer to the Buddhahood, Nirvana and will liberate from the suffering of Samsara (infinite lives of rebirth).

Practice In A Family Setting

Some Buddhists think that it is difficult to practice at home because of its mixed environments. This is a wrong perception. Does it mean that there are less things to do in the temple than at home? There is an old saying that "Haven't yet worn the Buddhist garment, we complain too much works. However, after we put it on, more works for us to do." This is a sarcastic statement for practitioners. We often heard the Head monk complained, "A Head monk is like a daughter-in-law of a hundred families." Thus, no matter what kind of settings you are in, busy or relaxed, less works or more works, the focus is to understand the practice and to be confident. If we have these two factors, we can practice either at home or at the temple. We just have to be skillful and flexible in all circumstances. We should never demand a particular condition for our practice. That type of demand is an excuse for us not to practice because many of us out there could not develop a desired circumstance. To satisfy their immediate desire, some male and female Buddhists are decisive to become monks or nuns even though they have to leave behind their children. But when tragedies occur in the family, they will immediately give up the religious life to come back home. This is a vulnerable action.

To Prove That We Can Practice In All Circumstances

In Tang dynasty, there was a layman named Pang Yun and his family whose practice could reach to the state of being able to control life and death. For years, all Buddhist studiers have admired and respected them. Like it said in the "Pure Land" suttra that we recited at night, "Like the meditation of the Pang's family in the past.." Layman Pang Yun began his Buddhist study as a Confucian. Later, he became more interested in the religion. Thus, he visited many Zen masters to ask questions. At first, he visited Zen master Shi Tou and asked, "What is the type of a person who doesn't make friend with all dharmas?" His mouth was immediately covered by the Master's hand. Instantly, Mr. Pang became enlightened. Later, he asked Zen master Ma Tsu with the same question. The Master replied, "If you can drink the West River (Hsi Chiang) in one gulp, I will tell you." This statement had increased his belief in Buddhism.

He and his wife had two children, a son and a daughter. They lived in a house near the foot of a mountain. Every day, he split the bamboos to make blinds for his daughter to sell in the marketplace. Their life was quite simple as the focus was on the practice. One day, during a family's religious discussion, Mr. Pang said, "Difficult, difficult, difficult climbing on a tree with ten tons of sesame oil on its trunk."

But Mrs. Pang immediately replied, "Easy, easy, easyon hundred blades of grass is the master's mind (true nature)." Their daughter, Lin Zhiu balanced both sides by saying, "It's neither difficult nor easy. Eat when you are hungry and sleep when you are tired." To Mr. Pang, practicing Buddhism is a tough process like climbing up and sliding down from a slippery tree that has been rubbed with sesame oil because there is no place to hold. On the other hand, Mrs. Pang thinks it's easy to practice because the master's mind is in everywhere that she looks. Their daughter tries to balance both sides by saying that it's neither difficult nor easy because the differentiation in two sides, difficult and easy, still exists. If we can go beyond the differentiation in two sides (two views), our mind will be in a tranquil state so that we can eat when we are hungry and sleep when we are tired. Her statement might be misinterpreted as living with our own instincts (inborn nature, not the true nature). This is dangerous. What she meant was that when our mind has no more differentiation in both sides (difficult and easy, good and bad, better and worse, etc), we reach to the state of knowing to eat when we are hungry and to sleep when we are tired.

Mr. Pang had made the following pasean to describe the union of his family:

Have a son who is not married
Have a daughter who is not married
All live together
Discuss only subjects of the truth
(matters that are not subjected to birth and death)

One day, sitting on a plank seat, he was ready to decease. He asked Lin Zhiu, "Can you go out there to check if it's noon yet?" She went outside to take a look, then came back and said, "It's close to noon. However, there's an eclipse. Do you want to check it out?" Mr. Pang stood up and went outside to check it out. When he came back, his daughter already passed away in a sitting position on the plank seat. He said, "My daughter was so clever."

After her funeral service, he notified all his friends about his decease. Everyone gathered on his last day. Laying down with his head on Chou Mu Kong's lap and his eyes closed, layman Pang passed away. Mrs. Pang heard the news. She went to the crop field right away to let her son know the incident. She said, "My son! The mindless old man and the foolish girl already left us." "It's that so," her son replied. Then, he stood straight up and deceased. Mrs. Pang responded, "This foolish one is also gone."

After taking care of her son's funeral, she went up to the mountain and passed away. This is a remarkable incident of "the ability to control life and death" of the Pang's family. Each person in the family had a duty: Mr. Pang was making bamboo blinds, his wife was doing house chores, his daughter was selling blinds at the marketplace, and his son was working in the plantation field. With such busy life, they could still practice and attain the state of being able to control their own life and death. So, can we accept your excuse for not practicing because of a particular life setting or circumstance?

The Tran dynasty of Vietnam had two exertive practitioners: King Tran Thanh Tong and High official Tue Trung. The following is a remarkable story about them. On the memorial day of the King's mother, he courteously invited well respected individuals, including the High official. The King had requested all of them to make a short pasean to express their realization. He didn't feel satisfied with any of them that he had viewed so far. He then passed on the writing materials to the High official and requested him to write one. Without stopping, the High official wrote:

Using realization to show realization
Like seeing specks of light when the eyes are rubbed
After the specks disappear
The view is clear always

After viewing his writing, the King wrote down as follows to express his realization:

The view is always clear
But still see the specks when the eyes are rubbed
Knowing specks are unreal
The specks will vanish

Our false views (thoughts) are unreal like the specks of light that appear when our eyes are rubbed. When the eyes get back to their normal condition, the specks disappear. The eye sight is clear when there's no more speck. It's the same as our mind that has been covered by the false views. So when they vanish, it's clear. The King and the High official had the same perception, but their expressions were in reverse. The High official stated that the eyes were rubbed, therefore, the specks appeared. After the specks vanish, the eyes can see clear. On the other hand, the King stated that the eyes can always see clear. But because we rubbed them, the specks appear. However, at that moment, if we realize that the specks are unreal, they will disappear instantly. The eyes can see clear again.

On one occasion, the King was quite ill. The High official wrote him a letter to ask for his condition. The King replied in his letter with these two phrases:

Fevering and sweating
The loin-cloth at birth has never been wet

When the High official had a typical illness, he lay on his right side on a bed at Duong Chan Trang with his eyes closed. When his wives and servants mourned loudly, he opened his eyes, sat up, and asked his servant to bring him some water to wash his face and mouth. Then, he lightly scolded, "Birth and death are typical matters. Why do you have to disturb my true nature?" He lay down again and calmly passed away.

A King before his death experienced the pain from the disintegration of the four aggregates (earth, water, fire, air). However, he acknowledged that there was one thing that would never disintegrate, which was called "the loin-cloth at birth." A High official, who lived in a good condition with many wives and servants, could died pleasantly in front of everyone's sorrow. If we claim that occupations are the hindrances of our practice, then who could be busier than a king, especially a king who loved and cared for his country and his people during the invasion of the northern country? Who could be more occupied than an official, who had many wives and servants? If these two people could practice, then we can do it. There should be no reason for us not to practice.

In conclusion, none of us is perfect. We need to practice to terminate the bad deeds, which are caused by our three karmas (body, mouth, and mind). Meanwhile, we need to develop the good ones. The termination of bad deeds and development of good deeds are needed in each person, who wants to improve himself/herself. A denial of practicing is a denial of improvement, nobility, happiness, and peace. For whoever wishes his/her life, family environment, or society to be more joyful and peaceful, practicing is the way to accomplish those wishes.