I was born into a Buddhist family and like most Buddhists, I approach Buddha on a worldly path because I am not destined to be a nun depositing my whole life at an isolated pagoda somewhere. More than three decades have passed me by and I have been taking refuge in the Three Treasures for more than one third of the period. However, all hardships of my life-learning still deprive me of an opportunity to thoroughly acquire Buddha's teachings.
Some lessons I have gained from my limited knowledge of Buddhism include how to stop sufferings guided by the Four Noble Truths, how to lead a moral life if we follow the Eightfold Path, how to control the overwhelming power of the six gunas over the six human senses and the law of impermanency based on the theories of Karma and Samsara.
Though I am not called to devote my whole life to Buddha, I always wish to keep close to Him in this worldly existence with my modest contributions to lessen the hardships of the needy people around me.
Still fresh in my mind are the early charity donations that I made with my little hands.
When I was a girl of four or five, there was an old man wearing a large hat, with a bag on his shoulder, bicycling to my house to collect charity rice every month. I remember hearing my grandfather call him by a simple yet loving name, Uncle Ba Sieu.
Uncle Ba Sieu was a thin man with a kind face, a gentle manner and a soft voice. Even now I can picture clearly the image of myself in those days when I left my games unfinished to rush home every time I caught sight of him.
My family often told me never to donate to charity a top-flattened can of rice but try to fill it to the very most. As a result, whenever I took the rice for him, I added another handful of rice as my own modest contribution to the charity bag. I did not know who my little handfuls of rice would go to and which sufferings they would comfort, I just knew that every time I did that, I felt a little happiness warming up my heart and since those moments, the seeds of charity began to bud inside me.
That little girl grew up with time. My grandfather's routine chants and prayers gradually found their way into my heart and develop it into a sympathetic one. I was taught never to turn away from others' pains but always bend over them instead.
I find myself deeply touched when I watch humane programs on TV. I laugh at myself when I quietly cry at the sight of a mournful funeral. I am willing to spare part of my daily food budget into the open torn hats at the market corners or under the bridges. I volunteer to contribute part of my salary to my father's charity journeys.
I have done those quietly, not knowing whether or not my contributions are in some sense called "profit-oriented" when the law of cause-and-effect is applied. Am I helping others, or am I helping myself, while I am trying to grow good seeds now in order to enjoy sweet fruit in return, if not in this life then in some distant reincarnation? Is there any generosity or donations that are mere givings for nothing back?
After all, I try to encourage myself that if my contributions, in its ultimate essence, are still for profit then at least I do lend a hand to relieve some burdens. They are just some cool raindrops gathered to water this scorching life.
Days in, days out, I have been journeying in this human existence with my humble religious practice, though my personal life is filled with troubles and my tears are shed not only for others but also for myself so many times. Each day passes me by with both penalties and blessings. I feel myself satisfied with my time-consuming lesson plans in return for my students' gratitude and my colleagues' appreciation. I feel myself fully blessed every time my little son rushes to the door to welcome me home.
I hold myself in a silent consent when people around me say I am one of the few lucky women. They do not know, and I do not want them to know either, that I am exactly like them with all human joys and sufferings. No one laughs all days and tears are always available whenever we have to cry. No matter how my life is filled with laughter or tears, I insist living a good life till the last breath. I must pay for what I have caused, and I try to sow good seeds in a hope for good fruit.
I teach my son to live for others, as my family used to teach me. The sweets I encourage him to share with the poor shoeshine boys, the money notes I give him to hand the needy people, and the small gifts I prepare for him to give his friends on their uncelebrated birthdays are like the handfuls of rice, which his mother put in the charity bag many years ago. I do wish when he grows up, he himself will share with others such humble handfuls of rice.
It is the way I approach Buddha while I have to struggle in this hard existence, counting upon my sharing instinct to gain happiness and relying on the law of impermanency as a life principle.
Copyright © 2009 Do Thi Dieu Ngoc --- Vietnam
Do Thi Dieu Ngoc is a university teacher and an amateur writer for a bilingual magazine in Vietnam. If you would like to pass on a comment, just send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org