Guest Contributor – Chong Jun Wen
Article submitted by Chong Jun Wen
I never gave Dharma much thought before although our family’s main religion is Buddhism. I just thought as a Buddhist we do not take a life (as in not squishing bugs; mosquitoes are excluded from this category, their itch is terrifying), do not intentionally hurt anybody and do charity once in a while constitutes being a ‘Buddhist’. How mistaken I was. We do not kill but we eat meat, we do not harm but we do not go out of the way to be kind to a stranger. As such we constantly contradict ourselves and get confused with what religion is truly about and as a human being, our potential to become even more.
My childhood passed in a blur, with our school commitments to pass one test after another to fulfil the old adage, “To get a good life you need to get a good job. To get a good job you need to get good results!” I can say that was me and my peers’ life mantra. My mother took especial care of me, wanting to give me all she never had. She was adamant to educate me in both Chinese and English school system so I attended an International kindergarten in the mornings and go to a Chinese one on the afternoon. I remembered complaining about this but I was told it was for my own good.
I progressed to primary school (just Chinese education from now on, thankfully) and it was all exams, results and efforts into getting a good high school. I remembered having a subject called Moral Education where we have to memorize a set of values like respecting your elders and answer examination questions like ‘What should you do if you see an old lady wanting to cross the road?’ Probably that’s the most basic form of Dharma?
Being in a Chinese school in Malaysia is all about discipline. For starters our hair (for girls) must be short, not longer than 4 fingers underneath the ear lobe, you don’t argue with your teachers and you do what you are told. I don’t remember asking a lot of questions either; probably I should have defied more to be able to learn outside the system.
Eventually it became my habit to keep quiet, and also established a sort of perimeter of what I like to do or don’t like and kept on thinking ‘I have always been doing things in this way why should I try another when I am comfortable like this?’ I didn’t know it but it kept my world very small. I got this huge wakeup call when I realised my perception is not entirely faultless and that sometimes the way you are and the way you do things aren’t always right though you think it is. I believed Dharma is the very essence of this.
I am born and bred a Penangite. The people as well as the culture are very much vibrant and I am very lucky to be part of it. I felt this even more having work and studied overseas. Possibly due to being a Chinese and therefore superstitious, my mother in all her goodness engaged someone to “calculate” all of our family’s name to see whether it is “right” for us in terms of auspiciousness, for our career, our health or is it harbouring any life threatening situations. This is when I decided to work away from home.
I did not think this was necessary to change my name so I “would not have frequent accidents that will make me shed blood” situations however the lady kindly gave me a piece of advice which I took to heart and would like to share, that it is to work away from home, to get yourself thrown into different circumstances and make yourself grow out of your comfort zone. Then I went to Singapore I found out things weren’t as easy as I thought it would be and I realised now I took many things for granted. Yes I thought my degree, my qualification it would be a breeze to land a good job, you know the thinking you grew up with and studied so hard for.
If you hadn’t had the experience taking public transport during rush hour, it’s not just trying to squeeze in, after you squeeze in you can’t really stand straight, your body will be in awkward positions and you’ll have this feeling of what sardines feel when stuck in a can together. Imagine this every day and then there’s difficult situations at work, people issues and it’s sometimes a lot to handle. You keep thinking you didn’t do anything to deserve to be in such situations and you are a nice person you did not hurt anybody and this keep going on in your mind until you just couldn’t take it anymore.
It was this time when I came across to an article in Rinpoche’s blog about karma. I knew if my life is in my control this would not have happened but it’s not in my control. It got me questioning why? What have I done wrong in the past? I began to believe that maybe what we have thought is not applicable? I’d like to think that Life itself means something more, more than making money, and more than always thinking about yourself.
I think there’s Dharma. Dharma taught me not to judge a person based on your own standards and to step into the other person’s shoes for a minute. It seems so easy to judge a person base on that moment that situation but whatever happens to motivate the person or the remorse felt after we do not know and we will never know. Our society has a system of labels, of stereotype like calling someone “dumb blonde” or “smart ass” we oft forget we are destined for higher things and ultimately only fighting for what we think is a better life for ourselves.
I confess I still fight with myself that why I couldn’t be better as now I know what is the right. Yes when I see an ugly dress I judge (not out loud) but later I catch myself telling myself I should embrace individuality and its other people’s business what they would like to wear for example. This extends and not limited to personal style and I feel maybe it’s easier to think in that person’s shoes and we’re able to come to a better understanding. We would then be able to feel for each other to able to respect each other’s choices ultimately to live in peace with ourselves and others.
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