Thượng Toạ Thích Từ Lực cố vấn cho Ban Hướng Dẫn Trung Ương, Ban Hướng Dẫn Miền Thiện Minh, cũng như 3 đơn vị Gia Đình Phật Tử (GĐPT) ở vùng Đông Vịnh Bắc California. Đó là GĐPT Chánh Tâm, Chánh Đức và Chánh Hoà. Các đoàn sinh gia nhập vào GĐPT được học Phật Pháp, tiếng Việt, hoạt động thanh niên và được tào tạo các thanh thiếu niên này trở thành Phật Tử chân chánh, một người ngoan hiền và giúp ích cho xã hội.During my childhood, I went through a life full of emotions – happy, sad, angry, loving, jealous, suffering, or compassionate – as the impulses of a child at the growing age. I thought it was a natural life as it should have been. In my adulthood, I have also experienced these emotions, but I am better than I was before because I have learned how to be awake to my thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors, not just being unconsciously soaked in and ignorantly attached to them as my childhood. Since I learned methods of mindfulness practice, I have lived more mindfully than in my childhood. In the early life, I lived a life controlled by my habits rather than awareness. So, what I called “natural” in the childhood is much more instinctual for the survival than fully aware of what is truly happening.
I have chances to work with young people both in school and in community. I see them full of vitality, passion, ambition, and ideals for a better life. However, I sometimes wonder about their ways of making their dreams to become true in pursuing careers or engaging in social services.
Instead of grounding in the present as a strong foundation, they project their ideals and commitments towards the goal-oriented future.
There are many kinds of people with different life orientations, called karma in Buddhism, as their habits are nurtured and conditioned day by day, and their vision and thinking are framed by culture, social learning or family teachings. Some young people orient their life towards the past for refuge. Whether they are in happy or sad mood at the present, they usually enjoy recalling or reminiscing memories from the past. Also, there are people who can live in the present but lose future orientation or be alien to what had formed themselves from the past. They are unlikely to be able think beyond tomorrow and indifferent to what happened yesterday. Meanwhile, there are someone who only aim to set goals for the future, and the time, as the axis of rotation, becomes the measure of their goal accomplishments.
Life always gives us a lot of pressure from the family, school, friends, career or socialization. More importantly, the pressure is from our own expectations for ourselves to accomplish. No matter our age, inner or external pressures are present in us. However, we should not blame our life or the situation in which we live; instead, we should look at how to live harmoniously with it, how to perceive it as it is, and how to integrate ourselves into life. That means life itself is not full of sufferings and miseries, but our perceptions about life brighten our happiness or shadow our suffering. We should not favor the extremist attitude of living a life in a too fast or too slow pace. However, people who are good practitioners of mindfulness can conduct a life calmly, solidly and happily with what has happened to them whether being fast or slow. Anyway, a life in hurry usually makes us stressed out and prevents us from seeing things fairly, anew, or indiscriminately because when we rush to accomplish our goals or we try fast to compete for good things, we often do not have enough time to appreciate or to live what we are actually living.
Young people living with the past often live in a slow pace, not in the way of practicing to be mindful about what is happening in order to truly experience but slowing down to be sunk in the past emotions and memories. On the other hand, those who live in the future are usually the ones who live fast, in rush, hustling to pursue their future goal with the perception of keeping up with demands for fast-paced life. They are racing against time and result-oriented rather than enjoying beautiful things on the road. They are like the rabbit suddenly finding himself as a loser to the turtle in the race and jogging aggressively towards the end. No matter which orientation of life we chose to live, I think there are two important things to keep in mind –that is, living fully in the present moment and living whole-heartedly with what is happening without being attached to sufferings or pleasures of the past or worries to the future. I remember the story about a race between a hare and a turtle which I learned in elementary school when I was in Vietnam. I damned the turtle while I liked the hare since that time until I entered college. As a student in a city college, I had many big dreams for my life and my future. I had a group of close friends, and we often thought and discussed a lot about the future and proposed many commitments for our ideal of an engaged life. We thought that engagement to life means to make our commitments to do our best in order to have an important position among others in society rather than commitments to serve people with a compassionate and loving-kindness heart. I made my schedule for a day full of activities, such as studying in school, attending a guitar class, learning English, mastering computer skills, and even at night, joining a dancing class as a way to associate with friends and heat up the lively youth age.
I raced over my time throughout the day, like a rabbit suddenly awaking after a nap on the race track to figure out that the slow fellow turtle outstripped him in the race.
That means, after my passive childhood in a remote village without many chances to learn and explore, I went to study in the big city with so many opportunities at the same time to learn. It opened my eyes and I was overwhelmed but very excited because I could compete with myself, with friends, and with time. I loved the hare with his wonderful skills in galloping and rushing towards the goal on time, ignoring things on both sides of the racing path. I was a big fan of the hare during my college years until I came to the United States more than twenty years ago.
THE PRESENT MOMENT A STRONG FOUNDATION OF AN IDEAL
I see some youths, who are really fast-paced, agile, and talented like the hare in the racing story. Instead of taking them as my “allies” to prefer the hare’s agility and talent, I keep wondering about the meaning of the hare in the race and liken him to the youths in their race to the future. I think that an ideal or a goal should be started on a spacious route where people can enjoy the variety of beautiful landscapes or experience different difficulties when they encounter on the way. They would rather not drive a racing car in the long, dark tunnel without knowing anything on the sides of it, except the fragile beam of light at the far end of the tunnel and presume that the safe tunnel will lead them through the darkness and reach the light at the other end, if they just keep racing in it. An ideal or a goal should be grounded on a solid platform of the present moment, so that we can enjoy flowers, beauties and learn to overcome difficulties on the road.
When I started practicing methods of mindfulness, I changed my mind of seeing things. I chose the turtle as my fan and criticized the hare. I thought I should have slowed down my hustles and fast moving in order to practice mindfulness meditation. I learned from the story that although the turtle in the story cannot match the hare in the race if they compete on speed, the turtle is much more patient and determined on the race to the goal than the hare is. The turtle just does his best attempt in the race even though he may be a loser, he does not show any worry or anxiety. The turtle simply lives and acts exactly as his nature of a turtle and enjoy his slow paces on the racing path.
I remember the time when I first joined the monasterywhere I started to be a Buddhist monk. At that time, I livedin the environment of a monastic retreat, and my turtle was my idol to reflect on. I saw that I myself was a true turtle.
I was happy with my slowness to have time to see things deeper than just on the surfaces. Although my monastics around me was fast-paced and accomplished goals fast, I accepted what was going on around me because I had my own view on my practice. I see my monastic fellows were really admired hares. I did not worry about my slowness and felt left behind by others’ agility and goal-oriented ideals. I was not afraid of being left behind while everyone get things done fast, but I was concerned that I was not reassured enough to live with my “turtle” characteristics.
I see some teenagers could not live up to their calm natures as they are. They keep hurrying to chase after the hustles of others and to keep pace with the fast rhythm of changing society. They should pay more attention to their own strength and turn back to their own lives to understand what they really enjoy and what they actually look for instead of following the fast-paced lifestyles conditioned by others or society.
Any unequal race always makes us tired of competition. We could be slow, but we are happy with what we enjoy on the path we go rather than orienting our mind to the goal in the future while ignoring or forgetting our wonderful and precious present moment. Being fast or slow is not a standard measure of true happiness; happiness is the time we really enjoy what is happening and recognize it as it really is. Therefore, happiness is not at the far end of the racing road; it’s alongside the road that requires us to slow down and take time to experience it on the way.
ADULTS’ EXPECTATIONS RUINED YOUTH’S INNOCENCE
There are two neighbors who have sons studying in the same class for years. The sons are good friends not only in school helping each other to study well, but also at home where they can play together harmoniously. Both children are at the same level of academic achievement during the elementary school and middle school. However, when they entered high school, they have become rivals to each other.
Since their school reports of the first year in high school showed that one of them got a better result than the other, their parents begun applying a “hare and turtle” race for them. The parents of the student who has a better scores felt happy and satisfied with their son’s academic achievement. They usually praised their son in front of friends or relatives. Meanwhile, the parents of the other student felt ashamed and upset because their son’s school result did not satisfy their expectation. They blamed their son and labeled him to be slow as “a turtle”. Both families secretly pushed their sons to be in the race to compete vigorously to each other throughout the high school years. From the good friends, they become targets of their parents’ criticism and praise.
Since then, two students were very stressed because of pressure from family, friends, and community. Although they still played together, they felt a big psychological gap between them. If they were awaken enough to be on their own strengths and determination, they could have understood that competing toward the goal because of the adults’ expectation and satisfaction would result in breaking their friendship and they could live up and help protect their own friendship, no matter who is better than the other. If the parents of two sons understood their son’s strengths and talents suitable for a certain career orientation, they should have not forced him to follow what they had expected.
In another situation, parents push their children to live up to their expectations and ignore the children’s true feelings and enjoyments. Last month, there was a touring fair outside a shopping mall close to my house. It was full of people; most of them are kids who came to play games. I specially paid attention to a couple with four children hurrying to the ticket booth to buy tickets for games. The father kept commanding his children to move faster to be in the line where a lot of people were waiting. “Hurry up! Hurry to line up”. “Move faster!”, “Why are you guys too
slow?”, the father was in hurry and expected his family members to move fast like him. One game to another, he kept pushing his children to try different games that he thought they were more enjoyable and excited than the ones that the children really wanted to entertain.
Adults’ expectations are not always children’s enjoyments. Adults’ rushes are not always what children appreciate much. Children sometimes follow parents’ orders or requirements because they are taught to behave so but with their attitudes of reluctance or non-persuasion. Mindfulness can help bridge this gap in adults – teenagers relationship, making them more understandable and appreciative to each others.
Now when I practice mindfulness, I do not favor either the hare or the turtle in the race anymore. I have learned to adapt to life than to react to it, no matter what has happened to me. I appreciate the race that helps me have insights about the importance of mindfulness in daily life despite of working slowly or fast, provided that there is light of mindfulness shining in each of our actions so that we can truly return to ourselves and enjoy the true happiness of the present moment.
MINDFUL LIVING FULLY RECEPTIVE OF LIFE
Mindfulness is an opportunity for youth to open their minds to be receptive to what is happening in the present moment. They can look at things more deeply in different perspectives, not just perceiving things out of habit through fixed and framed mindset. When we are in a hurry, we miss opportunities to see things as fresh and new.
For example, in a meeting, people of different ages will surely have many opinions and many different perspectives on the same thing. If young children live in mindfulness, the mind always opens to them to listen various opinions so they look to overcome their limited vision. As they practice mindfulness, they have more openness, more deeply visionary, and have patience while listening to others.
Although mindfulness is awareness of what ishappening in the present moment, our minds tend to connect to things in the past, or envision things in the future to associate them into a meaningful story and determine its orientation. Therefore, awareness of what is happening in the present is an open attitude toward anything that exists without denying or attachment, but linked to the past and the future in order to make sense of the thought of ourselves as discrete orientations. The past gives us experiences to confirm the present, and the future is the orientation to the goal. We cannot deny the past and the future. We simply ground on the present as our solid foundation to observe them.
Despite of the thoughts whirring past or envisioning the future, we must stay firm in the present to simply observe them streaming, without following or reacting to them. That tranquil moment is our real happiness as we are uncontrolled or attached by our thoughts. We become an observer rather than being drawn into them unknowingly. Therefore, mindfulness becomes an opportunity to refresh
our mind, making it novel, receptive to what is happening, no matter what it is