I heard the following story from my mother when I was an elementary school student: There was a mother who had two sons. The first son sold umbrellas for a living while the second son sold straw shoes. When the weather was sunny, the mother worried about the elder son since he couldn’t sell umbrellas; when it was rainy, she worried about the younger son, since no one would buy straw shoes. Every day she worried.
Then, one day, a friend visited her house, who told her, “There is a way that you can always be happy. You could be happy on a rainy day thinking about better business for your elder son with his umbrellas, and you could be also happy for the younger son on a sunny day thinking about good sales of straw shoes for him”.
And so, the mother took her advice, and soon began to enjoy her life every day by changing her way of thinking and being happy for both of her sons.
My mother told me this story to me when I was in second grade and it instantly made sense to me, even at that age.
When I was in high school, I realized that my mother tended to think about negative things and usually worried about things even before she experienced them.
As much as she wanted to enjoy her life by focusing on positive things, she could not control herself from being concerned and worried about negative things.
This is similar to when we become automatically stressed and nervous before taking an exam or some test. The more relaxed and calm we are, the more focused and better results we will have.
On a daily basis, we may experience anger and resentment arising and festering even though we would like to let go and be free from them.
One lady went to a party in a red dress and many people gave her compliments about the dress. But one person said, “Hey, you look a little chubby in that dress”. After hearing that, the lady was so obsessed with that one comment all night that she could not enjoy herself at the party, despite all the people who had praised her dress.
How is it that my mother and the lady in the red dress decided to focus on negative things, instead of positive things to enjoy their lives? It is because their minds were not yet strong enough for them to be free from external circumstance, such as others’ words.
The root cause for these kinds of human concerns, worries, anxieties, agonies, and suffering is due to internal conditions; specifically within our mind.
The reason the earth revolves around the sun, instead of the sun revolving around the earth is because the mass of the sun is far greater than that of the earth. When our mind is not strong and empowered, we tend to worry, to be anxious and therefore experience much suffering. We can try to think and act differently in our lives, yet whenever we let external circumstances and sensory conditions be our master, we become their servants.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you”. However the life of Jesus was full of suffering and disturbances with many persecutions. The subtle smile featured on many images of Buddha represents our original inner peace, not some temporary satisfaction from outer situations.
So, how can we cultivate the strength of our mind? How can we empower our mind?
Physical strength depends on how much we exercise our body whereas mental strength depends on how much our mind is put to rest. Our mind recharges and strengthens when at rest. This is especially beneficial for modern people who use their brain constantly.
In other words, when we stop seeing, listening, thinking, and doing things and instead take a moment to meditate, then our mind has a chance to recharge and empowers itself.
Just as a phone does not function well when it is not regularly charged, it’s the same with our mind. When our mind is not properly charged, we are more likely to live with worry, uneasiness, trouble and distress.
My mother began attending Won Buddhist temple in her middle age, which greatly helped her transform her life from worry to satisfaction and gratefulness, as she prayed and meditated regularly.
Meditation and prayer are important to lead a calm and peaceful life. However, I believe it is even more important that we have a clear life goal in order to lead a liberated life. If the lady in the red dress was seeking a clear, sacred life goal, instead of pursuing secular approval, she would not have been so bothered by one person’s negative comment. If the mother of the two sons, the umbrella seller and straw shoes seller, had a clear life goal for herself in the world she would not have lived a life with constant worry and uneasiness.
Subhuti, one of Buddha’s closest disciples, one day asked Buddha, “How can one maintain a calm, clear and peaceful state of mind without being tempted by the secular world?” The Buddha replied, “One who gives rise to a great aspiration to liberate all sentient beings and who commits to this unwavering vow, will maintain a calm, clear, and peaceful state of mind.”
The above passage comes from The Diamond Sutra. If I, as a meditation teacher, was asked the same question, I might have answered, “You need to practice meditation more.”
To the question of one student who asked, “By what method should I cultivate my mind so that I may eliminate all of the five desires, focus singlemindedly on cultivating the Way, and lead a life of tranquility and comfort like the Buddha?” Sotaesan, the Founding Master of Won Buddhism replied, “Rather than eliminating desires, you should expand them. Once your petty desires are transformed into a great vow, they will naturally subside as you focus singlemindedly on your vow. Then, you will inevitably lead a life of tranquility and comfort.”
When I made up my mind my mind to become a Won Buddhist minister after comprehending the crucial matter of life and death, my mind began to be far less moved by petty desires for worldly things.
A tree with deep roots won’t fall over when the wind blows. Our life goal, or what we are seeking is the root of our lives.
Let’s contemplate, “What is my life goal?” Earning income, building a career and helping our spouse and children, etc. are only the means of life, not goals themselves. If worldly things become the goals of our lives, our lives will be lost in things of the world.
Let’s reflect whether we truly live a life according to our philosophy, especially when our mind falters and is tempted by worldly things.