In the first talk, I shared with you the importance of leaving a favorable impression on the attendees after they left the event. We want to make sure that we have acted in such a way that would leave a beautiful and lasting impact on the guests. This is a very important aspect; it is not a superficial act, but a very profound way of life. We may meet hundreds of thousands of people in the course of our lives but there will be those we will forever remember because of the beautiful character they possessed. We want to be the embodiment of that beautiful character to gain access to others’ hearts and minds. The Buddha called that the cultivation of good karma. Good karma is wholesome karma.
Today, in this talk number four, I would like to share with you about the caring characteristic or “quan hoài” in Vietnamese. For the word “quan”, if we talk about gateway, then there are “quan môn” (border gate) or “quan ải” (frontier post). In the series “Thiên Long Bát Bộ”, “Nhạn Môn Quan” is a far away frontier post (quan ải) where Tiêu Viễn Sơn was assassinated. “Frontier post” indicates a very grand and important gate. “Môn” means an important place, not just like a doorway in our house. Therefore, the word “quan” means a very special and essential quality.
But what does “quan hoài” mean? “Hoài” means to miss. If used as a noun then it means our heart, as in “Hoài Bão” which means heart desires. The character for “Hoài” is very interesting because it contains the word Heart in it. “Hoài” is always present in our heart. Like when we love someone or miss someone, we experience nostalgia (hoài niệm) and our thoughts revolve around that person. “Quan” and “Hoài” together is even more remarkable, it means to put someone inside the gateway of our heart and the person will stay there forever. We hold that person always in our heart.
Now let us look back and you will see what is remarkable about the word “quan hoài” or caring:
The quality that I mentioned in the first talk is how we impress ourselves into other people’s hearts and minds, but for this fourth quality, we want to bring other people into our hearts and minds. We have a special door and it must be opened. We have to open our hearts and minds and not have any preconceived ideas about others.
At the recent Assembly in San José, there were a lot of people who worked as traffic controllers. Whether under the harsh sun or in freezing weather, they were always there, directing traffic. This image remains imbedded in my mind. Even after the event, I still remember them – still remember how they persevered in the cold or heat. Then there were other incidences that erased my preconceived ideas. For instant, there was this person who would show up at every assembly that I attended. She was not too old, and she would just sit in one place, never smiled in spite of all my jokes. However, when we entered the Mandala and she sat there listening to my lecture in meditation, she would laugh whenever I laughed and made jokes. When I asked if there was anyone who really wants to learn this meditation method then I would show him/her, she raised her hand. All of a sudden, I realized that all these times meeting her, I couldn’t open her heart because I thought that perhaps, she harbored sorrows. The truth is the issue was not her but me, I didn’t open my heart, didn’t open the appropriate Dharma to teach her. It wasn’t until I discussed meditation that she suddenly opened up. When she smiled, my heart also opened up. I was so happy. That was when I thought I must teach meditation, the Hua Yen meditation method, to open up our true nature.
My feeling at that moment was like a door, a great gateway (quan ải) has opened in my heart. I felt as if she walked softly and joyfully into my heart. From then on, when I lectured, I would tilt my head to greet her and she would smile and greeted me back.
So you see, even though this seemed to be a small act, it was very important to me. As much as we want to enter other people’s hearts, we want them to also enter our hearts. Just like how I let this woman enter my heart when I accepted her. Next time if I went to San Jose to teach again, I will, for certain, ask after her so that she would feel my concern and care (quan hoài). It would be a small act, but it would bring me much gratification. Sometimes, we shut a lot of doors so people cannot enter. We must speak about different things, must open up to people then they will naturally enter. As they enter, we can then show them our care by expressing loving-kindness through our speech or actions.
The first thing we have to do is open our hearts. What should be in our minds in order for our hearts to open so that others can enter? If, when we do volunteer work, we look at people but don’t want to come near or talk to them, we only want to get the job done, then this kind of mindset will close up our hearts and we won’t be able to give any warmth to anyone. Therefore, this is the first door we need to open, to give people an opportunity to enter our hearts. After they enter, we can close the door to keep them there and we will always remember them. So “quan hoài” or Care is not an act of the moment but an act that occurs continuously for days, months and years. When you care for someone, you pay attention to that person for months and years. This is a long process and not just something to do once or twice then let go.
The long duration aspect of care gives one such a sense of warmth. When we examine deeper the word care, we can find all kinds of ways to develop a caring attitude.
We open up our hearts by throwing away preconceived ideas. We practice saying kind and warm words, practice looking deeply into other people’s eyes, practice getting closer to others. These are the first steps. Tomorrow I’ll talk some more about this topic of Care.