Musings of a Spring Afternoon

Bài viết cuối cùng của Tịnh Nghiêm Nghiêm Xuân Cường.


In the hallway of my home hangs a plaque that reads: “Let all that you do be done in love.”  I had thought that I understood what it stands for, but sometimes I wonder.  

We all talk about love.  It’s the stuff that makes your heart beat faster, the thing that sometimes brings tears to your eyes, and the thing that makes the world go round … but what really is “love”?  People often confuse “love” with “like” and they say things such as, “I love going shopping”, or “My children just love pizza, they won’t eat anything else”, or “My husband loves golf, he won’t do anything else on his days off”.  We all love our families and our children and want the best for them.  I often wonder why it is then, that people who love each other can cause each other so much pain, and whether it is possible to prevent hurting the ones you love.

When I first took refuge in the Three Jewels, I often wondered when I would be able to introduce the rest of my small family to Buddhism.  Fortunately, the opportunity presented itself two years later when a close relative fell ill with cancer and my father-in-law was also very ill.  We all felt helpless, scared and I must admit, also a little bit confused.  After all, we believed that we were pretty decent people.  If so, then why did these misfortunes befall us?

Through the dharma, we learn that if we welcome birth, then we must also greet death as part of the package of life.  If we accept one, we cannot refuse the other. More importantly, we learn that by practicing all the five precepts, we can help to protect ourselves from the many ills of life, leading to a healthier life.  As the father of a young daughter, I often worry about the kind of society that my daughter faces as she grows up.  I am happy to say that now that she has taken refuge in the Three Jewels and practices the five precepts, I feel much better.

As one who has come to Buddhism late in life, I consider myself very lucky indeed.  The dharma has given me an appreciation of life that I did not have before.  I understand that life is so short and precious, that it is important to treasure every minute that I have with my loved ones.  Recently, my parents passed away.  We always expect that someday death will come and take our loved ones.  But we try to avoid the issue because looking at death closely means confronting our own demise - and let’s face it - that is a terrifying thought.

It is as if we are children playing hide-and-seek with death.  Little toddlers think that when they play hide-and-seek, if they don’t see you, you don’t see them.  So they hold their hands in front of their eyes and hide in plain sight.  That is how most people think about death.  They do not think about it at all, as if by doing so death would go away, and then they would not have to deal with it.  

I realized, after my parents passed away, how little I knew about them.  I lived next to them for so many years while I was growing up, yet I never once went up to them and said, “Mom/Dad, I love you and appreciate everything you do for me.”  I just assumed that it was something they already knew.  Even when they came to the U.S. in 1990, I would visit them in California every year, but then again, I never hugged them and told them how much I loved them.  I guess men don’t do these things.  Now that I realize how wrong I was, my parents are no longer around.  

So I urge you:  “Please do not make the same mistake that I made.  If you love someone, go give that person (mother/father/wife/husband/son/daughter) a hug, and say: “I love you.  I appreciate your being there for me.”

Death has a way of catching up to you when you least expect it.  Two weeks ago, my wife called me, obviously shaken: “Do you remember Sarah…the one whose house we visited in July 2005?”  Sarah was driving home on a Saturday after visiting her mom.  She was only forty miles from her home when a teenager, who was half asleep at the wheel of her SUV, lost control on a patch of ice and slammed into Sarah’s car, pushing it into a ditch. Sarah’s car rolled over several times.  By the time the ambulance came, the crew had to use the jaws-of-life to cut the car in half to get her out.  Sarah did not make it.  She had a heart attack and passed away on the way to the hospital.  She was only 36 years old, and had just finished her residency in Radiology a few years ago.  She was one of the most courteous, kind-hearted and considerate persons that you would ever meet.  But yet her life was cut terribly short.  

As Buddhists, we try to make sense of such untimely departures by saying that perhaps she has paid off her debts from past incarnations.  We learn two important lessons from our friend’s passing: the first one is that life is so preciously fleeting that we should try to make the most of it by making our lives more meaningful by being helpful to all sentient beings; and secondly, though we cannot decide the length of our lives, we all can decide how good a life we can lead by being mindful in (most) things that we do.  

Sarah’s passing also made me think - the next time you say goodbye to a loved one, remind him/her that every word that one says should be a kind one, lest it may be the last word you say to one another.  A Holocaust survivor, now in her seventies, regrets that she once had a quarrel with her younger brother.  It was 1943 - she was 8 years old and he was 6 - when in a moment of anger, she had shouted: “I’ll hate you forever” - just a few silly words from an angry sister. Moments later, they were both rounded up by the Nazis and never saw each other again.  My eyes always get misty when I think about this elderly lady and her regrets.  

May all of us live without too many regrets.  As Tibet’s famous poet-saint Milarepa once said, “My religion is to live and die without regrets.”  May we all live fully in the dharma so that we can benefit ourselves and all sentient beings. 

 Tịnh Nghiêm Nghiêm Xuân Cường.


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