Reunion Dinner Dharma
At the very beginning of 2017, I had the opportunity to give a talk in Wisdom Hall, Kechara Forest Retreat. It covered the topic of practising Dharma at our upcoming reunion dinners.
On the eve of Chinese New Year, it is a Chinese tradition for the extended family to gather for a reunion dinner. During this annual event, relatives who are not necessarily in frequent contact with one another throughout the year use this much-cherished opportunity to reconnect with everyone. And given the diaspora of the Chinese community around the world, this annual migration can be an elaborate affair. In China alone for example, there are legendary mile-long traffic jams as millions move out of the cities and back to their hometowns, to grab this once-a-year chance to be with their loved ones.
However, this annual event is not without its difficulties and for some, the thought of reunion dinner leaves them with anything but happy thoughts. In Malaysia, the common joke is that when you go for reunion dinners, your elders will ask (or rather, interrogate!) you on a standard series of topics. “When are you getting married?” “How come you’ve put on so much weight?” “When am I going to get my first grandchild?” “How come your cousin’s job pays more than yours?” Hence some people approach the dinner fraught with anxiety; others attend fearful of the questions they may be asked, or dreading the conflict they have to witness. After all, if you have not seen one another for the last 365 days, there is sometimes a very good reason for this…
I spoke about seven practical methods that people attending reunion dinner can use to make their dinners a more pleasant occasion. In summation, these are:
- Conflict requires two people: an instigator and someone who responds to the situation and escalates it (you). So you have to take responsibility for your reactions. If someone makes a comment that displeases you, how you react to it is your responsibility and your reaction can possibly worsen/escalate the situation, or result in a positive and happy outcome.
- Focus on the positives of those you are with. The more you meditate on this, the more difficult it becomes for you to find reasons to fight.
- Realise impermanence, as the people who you perceive to be difficult will not be around forever.
- Look at what they are complaining about. Are the things they complain and nag about big and significant things, or small and mundane things? Are they complaining about you being unkind or are they saying your wardrobe is not fashionable because you lost your job? What they complain about is a reflection of their mind and who they are, and what they find important. It is not a reflection of you.
- Generate compassion for them. People often say things to satisfy a part of themselves that they are unhappy or dissatisfied with. They also say things out of their insecurities and think that in highlighting others’ weaknesses and failings, they can avoid facing or drawing attention to their own.
- Generate joy for them, especially for those you are being compared against. It is okay if your relatives are doing better than you; be happy that someone in your family is doing something to make everyone proud, and take responsibility for your own choices. If you are happy with the decisions you have made, be happy with it regardless of the situation (i.e. when your decisions are being compared against other people’s).
- Are you where you want to be? Having made your choices, are you where you want to be and if you are not, are other people’s opinions important in bringing you there? On a mundane level, do their opinions pay your bills? On a spiritual level, do their opinions add to your spirituality? Do their opinions help to create a situation that risks your spiritual practice?
I also spoke about the links between these seven points and the Eight Verses of Mind Transformation, and asked everyone to consider using reunion dinners as an opportunity to self-reflect. For those with children, are they turning into the kind of people they themselves do not like to meet at reunion dinners? Will their own children one day regret having to meet them once a year for a reunion dinner? And what can they do to prevent this? How can they introduce Dharma to their own families?
Ultimately, it is Dharma practice that will lead to a more harmonious, less conflict-filled life and just because it is a reunion dinner, does not mean we suspend our spiritual practice for a few hours. These dinners are a once-a-year event which is important in our Chinese culture and as mature, cognisant adults, we can and should play our part to make it a happy occasion and use it as an opportunity to progress our spirituality.
So do let me know in the comments section below how your reunion dinners went, and I hope everyone has a Happy Chinese New Year 🙂
Eight Verses of Thought Transformation
With the thought of attaining Enlightenment
For the welfare of all beings,
Who are more precious than a wish–fulfilling jewel,
I will constantly practise holding them dear.
Whenever I am with others,
I will practise seeing myself as the lowest of all,
And from the very depths of my heart
I will respectfully hold others as supreme.
In all actions I will examine my mind
And the moment a disturbing attitude arises,
Endangering myself or others,
I will firmly confront and avert it.
Whenever I meet a person of bad nature,
Overwhelmed by negative energy and intense suffering,
I will hold such a rare one dear
As if I’ve found a precious treasure.
When others out of jealousy,
Mistreat me with abuse, slander and so on,
I will practise accepting defeat
And offering the victory to them.
When someone I have benefited and in whom
I have placed great trust hurts me very badly,
I will practise seeing that person
As my supreme teacher.
In short, I will offer directly and indirectly
Every benefit and happiness to all beings, my mothers.
I will practise in secret taking upon myself
All their harmful actions and sufferings.
Without these practices being defiled
By the stains of the eight worldly concerns,
By perceiving all phenomena as illusory,
I will practise without grasping to release all beings
From the bondage of the disturbing unsubdued mind and karma.
For more interesting information:
- Eight verses to happiness and acceptance
- Intimate advice for us
- Books that are a must-read!
- The Farm of Your Mind
- Ingredients for a successful relationship
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