Dealing with Stress

Speaker: Ven. Miao Tan

Fo Guang Shan Hsingma Temple, Malaysia

I. Introduction

Hi, auspicious greeting to everyone. Thank you for tuning into Fo Guang Shan English Dharma Services. My name is Venerable Miao Tan from Hsingma Temple in Malaysia. Today, I would like to share the topic on Dealing with stress.

II. Stress

In this modern world, people are constantly saying “life is too stressful”. Why are people so stressed out? The feeling of stress is normally triggered by things happening in our daily life. For example, 

  1. Death of loved ones
  2. Loss a job
  3. Chronic illness or injury
  4. Emotional problems – anxiety, anger, and low self-esteem.

There was a true story that happened during the pandemic.

When COVID-19 becomes a threat to everyone, borders between countries are closed. There was a family where the mother was infected with COVID-19 and was taken away from hope to say in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for a week. Her daughter, who was working in Singapore, wanted to return to visit her mum. At that moment, it was a dilemma between going back and losing her job, or staying back and keeping her job. At that time, she was advised by her manager and siblings to stay and keep the job, because she cannot visit her mum as she was a COVID patient. This lady was so lost and didn’t know what to do. As days passed by, her anxiety increased, as she had to balance both her job and family. Weeks later, she received a video call from the hospital, wanting her to say her last farewell to her mum. She broke down. She cannot accept the death of her mother, and regretted not insisting to return home in the first place. As time went by, she began to feel more and more stressful, and started to be depressed, living in her own regret. 

From this incident, we can see that stress is build from the mind. If you are attached to pain, you will feel pain. If you can let go of pain, pain will disappear.

III. Contributors of Stress

Actually, many things around us contribute to stress, such as:

  1. Adapting to change,
  2. Finding a balance between work and family
  3. Aging and illnesses

During the pandemic, shops are closed, no mass gatherings are allowed, cities and borders are in lockdown, schools are closed. 

Therefore, most people have to re-adjust their daily life routine. Students study online instead of going to school, mothers have to purchase groceries through modern technology, and some organizations request staff to work at home with flexible hours. To deal with such changes, it requires positive thinking and wisdom to face these changes.

I have a friend who used to work ten to twelve hours a day. He spent most of his time in his office, meeting clients and working hard. Due to this pandemic, he has to work from home. In the beginning, he felt it was not so bad staying in home, he could spend more time with his family. But a month later, he felt stressed. He started to get agitated easily, and lost his temper. Many times, he would quarrel with his wife over small matters. The trouble in his mind cannot be unraveled, and he became sick and needed medication. 

Why?  Because he is not ready for these changes, he was compelled to stay in a small area, with the distractions from his children, and complaints from his wife where he has never experienced that before.

Actually, stress is everywhere. There are even sources of stress inside us, for example, stress from feeling loneliness, jealous, hatred, or ignorance. 

Some people are overwhelmed by stress and yield to physical fatigue, poor motivation, suicidal tendencies, or mental fusion.

The Buddha said, negative occurrences are not permanent, neither are positive ones. Realizing this is important to constructing a balanced perspective. Becoming aware of the impermanence of all situations can fuel one’s passion by relishing and savoring the wonderful parts of life.

IV. Getting Rid of Stress

If you would like to rid yourself from stress, the following are some recommendations:

1. Enhance knowledge and wisdom.

Enhance knowledge and wisdom by observing and learning from what happens around you. By gaining further knowledge and deepening your understanding, you can reduce stress.

Johnny owns a garment factory. During the pandemic, he didn’t receive a lot of orders from his clients. Therefore, he thought, “Since face masks are high in demand, why not I change my production to manufacture face masks?” From them, his business got better, and his factory became more popular in the market. 

2. Be optimistic, cheerful, and carefree.

Be optimistic, cheerful and carefree. Open your heart as wide as an ocean, so you can embrace the universe. Be optimistic about everything you do and do not overburden yourself and you will eventually alleviate stress. Just like Johnny.

3. Learn to let go.

Develop the ability to let go, Like a piece of luggage, carry it only when you need it. However, when you do not need it, put it away and let go.

When you accept a situation for what it is, you will stop trying to change it. Once the situation or circumstance loses its power, you can move on and take the next right action.

4. Befriend Stress

Befriend stress. Be willing to accept stress as part of you and part of life. Why bother fighting?

If we cannot change the current situation, why not live with it?

5. Go with the Flow

Make use of every opportunity to rest and go with the flow. When you do not ask for stress or resent it, stress will eventually disappear.

6. Personal cultivation

Place more emphasis on enhancing patience, compassion and wisdom by cultivating the self.

If you can practice the above, you can lead a life of carefreeness. Sometimes, stress is like a rock lodged in your mind, the best way to remove the rock is to learn and practice the Dharma.

V. The Five Aggregates are Empty

There is a Buddhist Term “Dependent Origination.” The Buddha described it by saying:

When there is this, that is. 
With the arising of this, that arises. 
When this is not, neither is that. 
With the cessation of this, that ceases.

This means, things don’t just happen. There is a combination of causes and conditions that is necessary for things to happen. By understanding how things come together, how they interact, it actually removes that sense of weakness or being helpless. Let me share a story on Five aggregates that are empty.

During the Buddha’s time, there was an elder who practiced the Dharma and respected the Sangha. One morning, he came to the Buddha’s vihara to salute the Buddha, then sat down by the Buddha.

The Buddha asked, “Why are you here so early?”

He replied, “I have doubts in my mind that I want to consult the Buddha.”

The Buddha then asked, “What doubts do you have in your mind?”

He said, “Buddha, when people are sick and in pain, what should be done?”

The Buddha said, “Everyone only knows the pain of diseases, but they don’t know how to remove the cause of pain.”

The elder asked the Buddha, “Buddha, then how can I get rid of the pain?”

The Buddha said, “All beings live with desire for joy. When the body is sick, the mind also falls sick, and it starts to feel miserable. If one feel sick in body, and his mind is not disturbed by his illness, pain can be relieved.”

When the elder heard what the Buddha said, he seemed to understand a little truth. He postrated to the Buddha, and took his leave.

When he walked out, he thought to himself, Sariputra, the well-learned disciple of the Buddha, I wonder what he would say about suffering of life and death?

He then saw Sariputra sitting under the tree, meditating. He paid respect to Sariputra.

Sariputra said, “Elder! You look happy today. What have you heard?”

The elder said, “I just heard the profound teaching from the Buddha, and I’m very happy.”

Sariputra then asked, “What wonderful Dharma did the Buddha give you?”

The elder repeated what the Buddha had said.

Sariputra asked further, “Dear elder, how to maintain a calm mind when your body is sick?”

The elder said, “Oh! I forgot to ask the Buddha.”

Sariputra then explained to him, “The Five Aggregates are empty. For example, a healthy body is something people pursue. They will continue to pursue external satisfaction. This will cause the body and mind to feel fatigue. Once the mind is sick, the whole body starts to suffer. Therefore, if one understands old age and death is the law of nature, one will not feel suffering.”

The elder was very happy after hearing from Sariputra. Therefore, from this story, we can understand that all suffering is actually caused by attachment to false forms. Once you let go of this attachment, you are no longer tangled by external influences.

if we can understand how things come together, we can also begin to understand the way out, and find ways to carefreeness.

I hope that with this understanding it helps us to ease a sense of isolation, and it help us to reduce stress.

V. Conclusion

I would like to share the wisdom words in Humble Table and Wise Fare by Ven. Master Hsing Yun,

Everything has its pros and cons,

Simply understand how to weigh them.

Everyone has strengths and weakness, 

Simply understand how to bring out the best in others.

So, let us train ourselves to face challenges and take on stress. Then it will eventually be dispelled.

Thank you for listening. I hope everyone leads a life of carefreeness and free from stress. Thank you.