Taking Care of Ourselves

Ceres Chia (寂筑) 

A few years ago, a South Korean tourist ventured further into a fenced-off restricted area which prominently carried a warning notice of telling trespassers to keep clear. She was at the military border that divided the territories of North Korea and South Korea, and was shot by a North Korean soldier on duty as she had ventured too deep into the restricted boundary. All she wanted was to sightsee the surrounding terrain and she paid her precious life for it.

The above true story is a stark example of how we, despite being aware of the obviously undesirable and probably, life-threatening consequence, still greedily pursue worldly enjoyments, often ignoring and brushing aside the danger that might follow. This situation is well described by Venerable YinShun, in his book, The Way to Buddhahood, “. . . a person carelessly falls into an old, dry well. Luckily he grabs hold of a withered vine in the well so that he does not fall to the bottom. . . . In desperate circumstances, he looks up and sees some honey on the vine. He sticks out his tongue to lick the honey and forgets everything. While enjoying the sweet honey, he even forgets that a swarm of bees may sting him.”

An example of a common situation of this in our daily life is, when we are coughing and having a dry throat, we are aware that we might get a sore throat if we take deep fried foods. And yet, to satisfy our craving for that delicious fried chicken drumstick, we still choose to eat it and get a sore throat the next day. So the fried chicken drumstick is the honey, enjoying this piece of fried food is the licking of the honey and forgetting about the unpleasant consequence of getting a sore throat, represents the situation of being stung by the bees. Venerable YinShun guided us, “But if they observed how worldly pleasures are not ultimate and often have bitter consequences – like honey on a blade – their attachments to worldly pleasures might decline. . .” We can still enjoy life, after all we worked very hard for ourselves and our families, but we can develop discipline by not over-indulging in pleasures of life, which feeds our roots of greed, and importantly, we avoid enjoyments that might bring harm to ourselves. When we plan for our holiday trips, we can steer clear of tourist places that are prone to terrorist attacks and aggressive rioting. If we have existing medical conditions, we cut down on consumption of foods that aggravate our health. These are some choices that we can make which are within our control. At times, the lure of attractions are so strong that we need to recall Venerable YinShun’s reminder: ‘Honey on a blade’, with Right Understanding and discipline, we do not go after desires that bring harm to ourselves. By avoiding the possible dangers from worldly enjoyments, we are taking good care of ourselves. For this mind cultivation, we rely on our body as the basis of support to practice. The importance of our body for Dharma practice is like a tree of support, as beautifully described by Venerable ShenXiu in his stanza: “The body is the tree of enlightenment, And the mind is like a bright mirror stand, Always cleanse them diligently, And not let dust fall on them.”

Ultimately our practice is directed towards the cultivation of our minds, which is to attain a Bodhi mind.

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