Dharma Panel: Finding Our Way Out of Crisis—Part 5

Panel Topic: Finding Our Way Out of Crisis

Ven. Chueh Fan, Abbess of FGS Toronto
Ven. Juewei, Director, Humanistic Buddhism Centre, NTI
Ven. Miao Guang, Deputy Chancellor of FGS Institute of Humanistic Buddhism

Ven. Zhi Yue, FGS Institute of Humanistic Buddhism

Question 5


Thank you, Ina. Now, this goes out to all panelists. What are your views on right speech? What is the Buddhist perspective on what we should say and or keep in silence? I know that sometimes people have the misinterpretation of treating compassion as leniency, or turn the other cheek, but Ina seems to raise that sometimes in times of crisis, compassion can come in a different form. So, to our panelists, what are your perspectives on this?

Ven. Miao Guang:

I think this is a very important question, and a very difficult one to answer, especially from a Buddhist perspective, because we have all learned that the Buddha always took that silent revolution. He always brought about a new change by remaining silent, even through the crisis of his own clan being wiped out, his choice was to sit in the middle of the road, out of the believe that this army, with giant elephants and horses, will stop charging over him.

So, is it okay to remain silent? This is a question of when karma takes shape, by “karma,” it means “deed.” When we think about something, it does not immediately become a deed or a karma. To me, I feel that it needs to be expressed through your speech and action in order for it to make a change or an impact. Karma, in the meaning of deed, will be connected to an impact or influence or change that is brought about by a visible expression of your thought.

At the same time, we realize that when the Buddha spoke one word, it was understood in a thousand ways by different sentient beings, so there is no way of ensuring what we said was delivered properly or desirably. So, what do we do in the face of crisis? Can we remain silent or without action? 

I refer to Barack Obama’s response to the “Black Lives Matter” incident. First of all, he says we need to mobilize to make sure everybody’s voice is heard in a peaceful way. So action is necessary, but under the responsibility that we are not taking this action to create harm. And secondly, this voice needs to be heard by an influential group of leaders who can make changes in the direction of collective life in order for actual change to happen. 

I thought he spoke in a very responsible and courageous way. First of all, it takes wisdom for us to decide what we need to do in the face of crisisSecondly, it takes courage for us to speak up to make sure that our thoughts and ideas are being heard and received. In cases when this is not received well, it takes compassion for us to accept the outcome of our wise and courageous decision. We feel that it matters to take action. 
But we are also very fortunate to be under the guidance of the Buddha, so that we are always acting out of empathy and kindness towards the self and others. After all, what Buddhism has taught to us in the most important way is to make sure that anything is done, we are always taking into consideration the benefit of self and others. Be it “Black Lives Matter,” or COVID-19 outbreak, or the heartbreaking bushfire in January, I, again, want to say that this is the moment for us to learn to voice our opinions under the guidance of the Dharma, and think about how these voices can be connected to a louder sound that will echo with to the world for a better change.

Chris Villy:

In response to silence and speech, it’s important to bring back the first principle, which is to cause no harm. Be careful with what you say and think it out, because what you want to say should be of benefit and not to be harmful or damaging.


Question 6

On the topic of right speech, Venerable Juewei, could you also reflect upon not just speech, but how do we reset our action, sometimes by not acting or not speaking? When do we speak or when do we act?

Venerable Juewei:

I was planning to return to Ina’s question, for when she started to ask the question, it brought to mind what I have been doing for these few weeks. I’m preparing for a course on Buddhist Ethics in Nan Tien Institute in August. In Buddhist Ethics, it’s about what’s right or what’s wrong, what would be a good outcome, or what would be unwholesome outcome. I constantly remind myself that in our mind, we have a buddha and a mara that’s constantly fightingThe world out there is actually an image of the world within us. It’s that buddha and mara contentious disputes that is leading our karma. That’s what’s playing out.

Very often when I am placed in a situation of dilemma, I often ask myself, “What would Venerable Master Hsing Yun do? What did he do in the past?” He’s a role model for us. I noticed that Venerable Master Hsing Yun always has, in his mind, a vision of a pure land on earth. We all know in our lives, how can we have faith in a pure land on earth? We are all in that mud at the moment. How did he do it? He has the vision for us. With that vision, he puts all the conditions in place, against all odds, he is such a wise monastic, and so compassionate. He can see how and where, he can poke us so we move beyond our comfort zone.

I think people who are protesting probably have so much anger, but I don’t want act or speak in a position of anger or hatred. I want to make sure that in my mind, the buddha has one mara, and then from that position of compassion, I create. This is Venerable Master Hsing Yun—he creates everything from nothing. He’s so creative. How do we create capacity?

I think of myself as a little cogwheel. As a little cogwheel, I can’t turn that big mara out there—I can’t. But if I can get a few cogwheels around me, and we all turn the same direction, then we can turn a million cogwheels, and from that million cogwheels, I can turn that big cogwheel and make mara lose power on me.

I think I have to start small, but first I have to fill my mind with buddha. So it’s not that I’m silent or not in action; we are paving the way, we are influencing people around us, and then we can slowly turn and turn the wheel. This is how Fo Guang Shan comes about. Who would think that 50 years ago we would have a transnational endeavor like Fo Guang Shan today. With millions of people with this positive drive, the question now is how do we use it? Can we come together through dialogues like this? How do we build that pure land and make it stay? I think Venerable Master Hsing Yun has given us that platform to do so. Now it’s up to us. With every interaction we have, we are building that solid base, and then let’s build projects together, real-life projects. As an academic, I can put my voice out there in journals and books. Let’s put our voice out there to the media. Let’s run communities of practice, positive and wholesome communities together. I think that’s how we can turn from a small wheel to a medium wheel, and then big wheel.