By Lotus Lee
Gold Sage Monastery's Sunday School. 14 years old
As I have grown up in a Buddhist family, the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua is an important part of my life, although I have never met him in person. When I was little, my mother often used the Venerable Master's Dharma talks and stories to help me understand Buddhism and establish good moral standards. Consequently, I learned a lot about the Venerable Master and his teachings. They have helped me greatly in my everyday life.
I remember one of the Venerable Master's favorite quotes was "Everything is OK!" I never really understood how and when "everything" could be "OK", until I recently had two experiences that made me realize what it really means.
Starting about when I was three or four years old, my mom set daily recitation schedules for me, such as reciting the Heart Sutra, Great Compassion Mantra, Shurangama Mantra, and the like. Last September I started going to a new school, and there were always tons of homework to do and lots of tests to study for. Like anyone else, I thought that the more time I had to study, the better my grade would be, so, especially around the time when I had this big math exam coming up, I started shirking my daily recitation. For zao ke, for example, instead of reciting the Shurangama Mantra and three times each of Heart Sutra and Great Compassion Mantra as I was supposed to, I would do away with the Shurangama Mantra, and for wan ke, I would recite only two short pages of Earth Store Sutra, and try to get away with not bowing.
Wrongdoings never go undetected. Somehow, my mom got wind of what I was doing and, one morning, gave me a talking-to about the real meaning and importance of doing recitation. She said that doing recitation every day is like giving a present to all living beings every day, because you transfer the merit to them. In other words, you are thinking for them and putting them before yourself. At the time I didn't really take that to heart. But when I went to school later that day and received the results from my exam, my grade was really bad—almost the complete polar opposite of my previous grades. I was really sad because I had studied extra hard for this exam. Talk about being depressed. I really didn't know why this was happening…until I remembered what my mom had told me earlier. I decided that I would be good, try putting others before me, and stop cutting my recitation homework. Miraculously, when the next exam rolled around, my grades went back up. Before this incident, it had never occurred to me that my recitation homework would directly affect me at all.
The second incident occurred not long afterwards. My whole family goes to Gold Sage Monastery every weekend. The Dharma Masters often ask me to help translate when they give Dharma talks. Usually, I do it willingly. A couple weeks ago, I was asked to help translate a lecture on the Shurangama Mantra on a Sunday morning. I would have done it gladly if not for another big math exam that I had coming up the following Monday. All I wanted to do that Sunday was stay home and bury myself in my textbooks and notebooks and exercise problems. It didn't help much that there was this one question on the practice exam that I couldn't solve. I voiced my anxiety to my mom, who reasoned with me for a while, reminding me that among other things, whenever I helped anyone else, I was helping myself, and that I shouldn't be selfish. Besides, whether I did well or not on the exam wasn't the end of the world. I agreed, and we compromised. The resulting agreement was that I would go help translate morning lecture, and if my mom could find someone else to substitute for me to translate during the lunchtime Dharma talk, we could come home right after lunch so that I could start studying as soon as possible. Unfortunately, she couldn't find a substitute, so we ended up staying a bit longer than expected.
As soon as we got home, my dad rushed to the library, as a last resort, to look for books that could help solve the practice problem that had been giving us so much trouble. When he came home, he said that something amazing had happened at the library. He had flipped through three hefty math books without finding anything useful, and was just about to give up and leave when he caught sight of a tiny book about trigonometry, which really was not what he was looking for, but he decided to look through it anyway. He said that when he opened it, the page he was looking at contained exactly what we needed. He hurried home ecstatically after borrowing the book.
All in all, everything went very smoothly that afternoon. With my confidence renewed, I went to take my exam the next day. As it turned out, that difficult problem was actually on the exam, and I was one of the few students who was able to get it right. I got a perfect score. My mother later told me that all these incredible things would most likely not have happened if I had been a "selfish ghost" and (heartlessly) ignoring translation, stayed home to study. As she often likes to say, "As long as you don't give up on other people, the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, and everyone else will not give up on you."
So when is "everything OK!"? Everything will be OK when you think for others, are willing to sacrifice yourself, and never forget what is really important. However, when you are selfish and petty, not only will everything not be OK, sometimes things will get so bad you won't even believe it. This principle has a lot in it for me, because one of my many big shortcomings is being selfish. I've never really been able to turn my selfishness around. However, these two experiences, together with my new understanding of the Venerable Master's favorite quote, have given me a new light on what I should do to improve myself. I believe this is what the Venerable Master wants to teach me.