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Our Actions Influence Others

When I was a pre-minister of Won Buddhism, I often heard my fellow classmates describe what inspirited them to become Won Buddhist ministers. Many grew up listening to their parents’ prayers and chanting, and that seemed to be linked with their decisions to become ministers. Many Christian followers also say that growing up seeing their parents’ offering prayer and reading from the bible was a considerable influence for them to grow up as believers.

What we listen to becomes very important for the value systems that we set up and to the decisions we make on a daily basis. But far more important is the actions of people around us, especially to younger children.

I once heard a story about a Catholic priest concerning his elder brother. The elder brother had a very low IQ and went through hardships to catch up academically during his middle school days. Nevertheless, the elder brother reached a turning point and became passionate about studying and eventually grew into an honor student.

The father of the priest worked at a company, but had to go through surgery for cancer during his middle-age. He got paid sick leave for a certain period of time, but his recovery was slower than expected. He could barely stand up or walk on the day when he returned to his work. To his wife, who worried so much, the father said as he left his house, “I have no other choice, but to go back to work to feed and educate our children”  At that moment, the elder brother was in the hallway and overheard what his father had said. It was a great shock to him. For the first time, he realized the depth of his father’s sacrifice for his family. After that day, the elder brother started studying with great dedication. The priest, who shared the room with his elder brother would see him staying up late every night. In spite of his low IQ, the brother became an honor student and entered into one of the most prestigious universities in Korea.

The elder brother’s witnessing his father’s sacrifice brought him to a turning point, more effectively than hundreds of words of parental admonition.

“If we say our words are like a flower, then our actions are like a fruit. A richly ornate word is important and good to hear, but the most valuable thing is the fruit.” “Make a tree healthy and its fruit will be healthy, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit (Mathew 12:33).”   “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Mathew 3:10)

In Won Buddhism, the morning and evening prayer starts at 5:30 AM and 9:30 PM with people standing up with their palms together in front of their chest, and begin by saying,“Dharmakaya Buddha, Fourfold Grace,… ”.  When I was in my mid 20’s prior to joining the Won Institute of Graduate Studies, I stayed at a retreat center for a few months. The day I arrived there, I heard the wooden gong sound at 9:30 PM and saw all the ministers come out to the yard, standing with their hands together. I saw an elderly minister stand under the moon light, beginning the prayer verse, “Dharmakaya Buddha, Fourfold Grace.” and realized that it was already embodied in her body and mind. The holiness was not in the prayer or scripture but in one’s own self. As a young man seeing the actions of this minister had profound impact upon me.

Children with alcoholic parents may grow up, swearing “never to drink alcohol.” Nevertheless, the ratio of alcoholism of children with alcoholic parents is several times higher than children who grow up with non-alcoholic parents. This indicates that we are far more influenced by surrounding people’s behavior than their speech or thoughts.

Let’s think about our own actions around our home and work. Let’s contemplate what kind of influence our own behavior has on people around us and especially our own children.

They say that human beings are social animals influenced by our environments. The great Confucian sage Mencius (372-189 B.C.) was said to play as a little child by mimicking funeral songs, when his family lived nearby a cemetery, and by mimicking merchants when he lived near a market. The mother of Mencius thought this was not the right place for her son’s education, so she finally moved near a school. At that time, Mencius formed the habit of reading beginning at a young age. This story is so famous that it is called孟母三遷(Mangmo SamChun), and is one of the most well-known Chinese four-character idioms, which literally means “Mencius’s mother, three moves.”

When I first heard about Mencius’ mother’s moving for her son’s education, I felt the parental love and wisdom of a mother.  If you have experienced moving to a new residence, you know what a big job it is to pack all your belongings and to rent a truck to relocate, even with friends’ assistance, etc.  In those old days, there definitely were no U-hauls to rent.  People used horse or ox carts loaded with heavy caldrons for rice cooking and other belongings. Imagine how the mother of Mencius, a single mom, moved around with all those household items in a horse cart. Do we make such great investments for our own children? Let us reflect.
It is said that the hyena which is notorious for being a vicious and violent animal becomes a very obedient and good natured animal if it grows up being loved by a keeper at a zoo. What is more, we need to think about how surroundings influence our spiritual existence. There is a saying “Many drops of water can make a flood.” Our repetitive acts will greatly influence the people surrounding us. They will permeate into our own as well as others’ minds and hearts, regardless of whether we perceive it or not. Our behavior especially towards children will be carved into their mind and life as if it is an indelible tattoo.

Once again, let’s examine our behavior. In addition, let’s awaken to the fact that our behavior is greatly influential on people surrounding us for our actions are our life.


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