Happy New Year 2020.
I saw the message 不忘初心 on a sign just when I was leaving South Putuo Temple, Xiamen,China.
Literally translated into ” Not forgeting your initial mind.” Or do not forget your original intention/ goal/ motive.
When I reflect on it, I discovered that many factors contributed to my 初心 to become a Buddhist. One of which, is the positive influence of others.
For some fortunate people, they started practicing Buddhism (meditation, chanting, observing precepts etc,) through the influence of prominent Buddhist leader. Especially religious figure such as monk,nun,lama,elders etc.
These Buddhist leaders play an important role in our life because we believe in them. To us, they represent Buddhist virtues and spiritual success. We believe that associating with them brings happiness.
This created a sense of confidence or faith in our practice and life. It is an exhilarating experience.
Being inspired by someone and feeling devotion can be wonderful. We feel empowered and privileged. We feel blessed. Such devotion brings strength and even gives us a sense of purpose in life.
Consequently., we willingly supported our spiritual leader and their causes by donating our wealth and services.
However, it is important that we recognise this influencing factor properly.
The devotional mind and how it had become our spiritual battery, our driving force. How it positively transform our life into a purposeful existence. That purposeful existence generate zeal and enthusiasm in our daily activities. This force in our mind is energy. It is zeal. It is a good thing.
With wisdom, we should recognise that our mind was actually attracted to positive qualities. Qualities such as compassion, wisdom or austerity. Perhaps charity, enlightenment, happiness, peace, mindfulness etc.
That physical person whom we are attracted to, are just manifestation or representation of those qualities that we thirst for.
Eventhough we cannot read the mind of our spiritual leaders nor do we live with them. Yet, we choose to believe that they possess certain virtues and qualities.
Therefore, in our unenlightened mind, we have created a form and become attached to it.
Just as a piece of clay can represent Buddha when we dress it appropriately, another human being can become a representation of good qualities when we believe what we want.
Initially, it is normal for us to confuse the object (person) with the subject (good qualities)
This is because we do not have sufficient wisdom. Devotional energy that is reliant on a physical object (person) is weak. It can also be easily corrupted.
Such devotional energy can be easily swayed and may even be destroyed by a simple gossip.
In the worst unfortunate situation, you discovers that the person whom you adored, your spiritual hero, was actually a wolf in disguise.
When that happened, one’s life is suddenly thrown off balance. The original zeal and purpose of life can be adversely affected. That will be most unfortunate.
For some people, the only way to cope and survive, is to adopt blind faith. They refuse to acknowledge the atrocities committed by their spiritual leaders.
One important goal in Buddhism is to cultivate wisdom.
Throughout the history of Buddhism, the Buddha never ever tolerate errant monks or nuns.(those breaking serious monastic precepts)
Therefore, we should not blindly support and believe in them too.
How should we protect our initial mind? Our 初心？
Instead of relying on an external physical object to trigger our sense of purpose, it is better to recognise the root factor.
What are the qualities that attracted us? What were we thirsting for?
For example, we may be looking for charity or aisterity. Maybe wisdom or compassion, perhaps happiness or even humor or wit.
Or perhaps we were craving for some fatherly or motherly figure in our life. And a particular religious leader seems to meet our unenlightened definition of a perfect father or mother and etc.
We need to really reflect why we were attracted to a religious leader. Know our mind.
Once we know our mind better, we have more awareness. We no longer blindly project our desire on another person and feel attached to a form.
Instead, we start to recognize the qualities that matters.
For example, if we thirst for compassion and enlightenment, then we start noticing it in our daily life, from different people and in different situations.
The Dalai Lama is said to represents compassion for he is Chenrezig. If we are attached to the object. (Old Tibetan man with a kind mischievous smile.) What will happen to compassion when he enter parinirvana? Will compassion be gone too?
For some people, that is what happen. They loose their purpose of practice when their teacher die. Death of their religious master became a road block.
But if we switched the idea in our mind around. Compassion can be represented by many different things beside an old Tibetan man.
In that case, Compassion will never disappear. It becomes eternal; as long as we cherish it.
That way, we can be in a remote forest cave meditating and when we receive news that our spiritual teacher passung away, we won’t loose our sense of purpose….
So it is important for us to know our 初心。 what was the original factor that motivated our entry to Buddhism.
It could be peacefulness, kindness, generosity, etc. Or a fuzzy idea of enlightenment which encompasses various good qualities that promised happiness in life.
Then we should look beyond form, try not to be attached to physical form. That way, we know ourselves. We know our mind, we know our purpose and we know our 初心。
Next step is protecting and keeping our 初心。
To be endlessly motivated throughout our life, we should strive to possess those qualities in our mind. Those qualities were what we thirst for. They attracted us.
That leads to practice. The reason why we spent 10 min to an hour on our meditation cushion. Followed by bringing the practice into our daily life.
After all the years of practice, did we manage to cultivate those qualities?
Or are we still craving the qualities of others? IDOL Chasing one master after another. Behaving like hungry ghost?
Or worse still, we do not even know what attracted us in the 1st place. Or have we forgotten our 初心？
Its not too late to reflect now.
May all be well and happy.