Thay’s talk to the Volunteers (3)

I have talked about how we should begin by making connections, by knowing how to promptly share good experiences and positive feedback with others.  Today, in this third talk, I would like to speak about a very important characteristic for an instructor, a volunteer, a lecturer, or anyone who serves the public in any capacity: Humility.  Humility is a very important characteristic that an instructor, a lecturer, a meditation instructor and all those who serve the public need to have.


Humility-humility (khiêm khiêm) is the way of the sages: humility, then more humility.  The word humility is very interesting; it means that one’s speech needs to be very modest.  In the I Ching, the hexagram “Khiêm” is the fifteenth hexagram; it said that we cannot look at the image “Địa Sơn Thiên” without being deeply touched.  “Địa” is the Earth and “Sơn” is the mountain.  “Địa Sơn” is the mountain beneath the earth.  It means that even with such talent that shifts the Heaven or moves the Earth, one should not blatantly show it off but should remain serene.  One’s manner, facial expression, smiles, etc., should not indicate to others one’s vanity, or the feeling that one is better, or more talented.


Normally, we respect others because they have an abundance of loving-kindness, warmth, and forgiveness.  We admire the qualities that touch our hearts and minds; we don’t just admire people because they are accomplished.  Although, in Western culture, we always need to let others know who we are.  There is nothing wrong with this, because if they don’t know about us, how will they utilize our talent? Therefore, letting people know who we are is very important.  We have to introduce ourselves like when we write our resumes, for example.  We need to let people know about our profession, our workplace, and our experience.  This is the usual thing.


However, in relationship with others, normally for Vietnamese or other Asians, you can see that we seldom need to know the other person’s profession or position.  Nobody will enquire about that.  Americans on the other hand, would ask very thoroughly; they ask to get to know the other person.  Usually their respect would derive from your background, position or education, the qualities that you can delineate. For Asians, we don’t pay much attention to these qualities but more to a person’s character. What did you do that brought about my respect, my love, and my affection?  Asian culture is different; therefore when we Asians meet for the first time, you seldom see that we ask about each other’s profession or ranking.  We also don’t have the habit of giving each other business cards to introduce ourselves, but for the Westerner, this is the obvious thing to do.


When I was in Japan, I didn’t know that the Japanese also have the habit of giving each other business cards.  I asked a tour guide: “Do you know if this habit of giving each other business card is the practice from long ago or just recently?” She answered: “ Probably only recently but I’m not certain.”  She was about 50 or 60 years old so she possibly would not know how things were dozens of years ago.  If we could ask a person from long ago, we would certainly find out that the Japanese in ancient times, even though having very clear class distinction, would not have asked each other about the other person’s talent, profession or position in society.  These things are not as important for Asians in ancient times as for people in modern times.


However, when Asian people find out the role or title of anyone, they very quickly become respectful.  They do not address that person by name but by his title, such as  “Mr. Manager” or “Mr. Dean.”


That is the kind of culture that impedes our humility.  When we are modest, we do not want to get stuck in any roles or honored titles.  To be humble is to be detached from the fanciful superficial honored appellations and to just focus on spreading our loving-kindness.  When we love others, we respect them and do not want them to suffer.  Therefore loving-kindness will lead to responsibility, respect, and mutual regard.  Loving-kindness will never lead to disdain.


Hence, when we live and serve together, we should not pay attention to others’ positions or stations in life.  We should just practice loving-kindness.  To do that, we must be humble.  I believe that among those who came to volunteer, there were many who are advanced in age, have children or grandchildren, hold a high position in society, or have many accomplishments. However, when we serve others either through ushering, transportation, or in any other capacity, we should make sure that we are only there to serve. Similar to the mountain that lies underneath the earth, when faced with abusive behaviors from the attendees, we should not retaliate with violent words.  Since we have willingly committed ourselves to serve, we should be open to accept all kinds of behavior, even if they are unkind.


It doesn’t matter how others behave or speak, we should think that we are the mountain underneath the earth therefore we should become the earth.  Don’t think that we are the mountains; only remember that we are the earth.  That way, even with our elevated positions in society, all of our accomplishments, family pride, or whether or not we are parents, grandparents, we should still be humble and gentle in our interactions with the guests.  In doing so, we evoke in them a feeling of affection, appreciation and imprint ourselves in their memories.  We do not need to show off who we are; we only need to touch people’s hearts with our loving-kindness.  They should be able to recognize that even if we are so elevated and accomplished, when we volunteer to serve, we put ourselves at the attendees’ feet for them to step on and do what they will.


In San Jose, when I passed the entrance, there were a lot of people wearing the green shirts directing traffic; I put my hands together and bowed.  I knew that many of these people have children and grandchildren, are very accomplished, and for certain, have already contributed much to society, but here in this place, they are doing some very menial, miserable tasks under the heat of the scorching sun.  I was so touched to see Mr. Nghĩa standing there, directing traffic.  Clearly, volunteering to serve is something that one has to do willingly.  We made ourselves become very small and insignificant, like specks of dust in the universe.  That is the greatest act.


We should see ourselves as little specks of dust in the boundless universe.  The opportunity to serve is a beautiful opportunity.  The vow to become this speck of dust is not to prove how good or great we are but to truly pledge to become very small and insignificant.  It should become our nature because we truly are insignificant.  Our true nature is boundless and limitless but we are still specks of dust.  This speck of dust is even smaller than an atom.


That is the main way of thinking when we volunteer to serve.  Don’t feel sad or get upset when the people we serve ignore us or treat us harshly.  We should always be gentle and remember this mantra: “I am a speck of dust, I am here to adorn this Assembly.  Because I’m a speck of dust, I want to, together with all other specks of dust, ennoble this Assembly by doing everything I can even if it is just a very minute and insignificant thing.”  This is the attitude of the Bodhisattva.  This is the exact attitude we should have when we volunteer to serve at this Amitabha Assembly.


Let us, together, hold hands and become these specks of dust in this infinite universe.

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