1. This past year of encountering dhamma (teachings of Buddha, or actually of any saintly beings) has been a most significant turning point. Being among sincere and diligent cultivators, and learning the teachings of wisdom, have filled my hearts with four gifts.
First, gratitude. Hearing the wholesome teachings, and being inspired to walk on the paths of truth, have filled me with such joy and gratitude for the endless people who made it possible. From the saints over the ages and across cultures, to the generations of teachers and practitioners who maintained the teachings and the meditation techniques, to my parents who instilled the values and gave me a moral foundation, to my current community of noble friends, to the people who give me rides to meditation center, to the servers who cooked and cleaned so that I can have a pure and care-free environment to perform deep "spiritual operations"... I owe them so much that I can only pay it forward.
I am also grateful for this human life I am endowed with, capable of hearing the truth, confirming with reason, and setting the strong intention to walk the path.
Second, humility. Seeing the devotions and practice of true cultivators around me, and hearing about the stories of the Buddha as well as other countless saints, have dissolved my self-congratulatory sense of intellectual and spiritual hubris. I have finally started to set aside the self-image of health and wisdom, and to develop a beginner's mind, acknowledging that I must start with the fundamentals, building the muscle from the ground up.
Third, repentance. It is as if I have lived my whole life with eyes closed, imagining how clean I am. And now, suddenly have my eyes opened, and I see that I am covered in dirt and grease. There are much regret, guilt, apologies, but more importantly, a sense of relief and joy. I feel relief because I final acknowledged that I badly need washing. Joy because I am still young, and am fortunate to have time to change.
This vow below moved me to tears:
For all the harmful things I've done, with my body, speech and mind, from beginningless greed, anger and stupidity, through lifetimes without number, to this very day; I now repent and I vow, to change entirely."The sea of suffering is boundless; the shore is where you turn back." It is such a blessing to be able to wake up -- albeit very briefly and vaguely at first -- and still have time to change. This is not just a turning point between the past 23 years and the coming decades, but a watershed between the eons of the past, and the lifetimes of the future. And the present moment, each moment, is my opportunity to repent, and vow to change completely.
The significance and magnitude of this moment fill me with the fourth gift: awe. Awe at the wonder of life. Awe at the depth of compassion. Awe at the truth in the teachings. Awe at a new appreciation of the scale of time and space. Awe at the certainty of the law of cause and effect. Awe at the long road of cultivation ahead of me, and also at the beauty of each small step.
Gratitude, humility, repentance, and awe. They helped to call up a strong dedication inside, to vow to change. Also reminded by Rumi to be gentle on myself, and to persevere: "Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come."
2. Buddha in the West, Jesus in the East. Dhamma in the West, Gospel in the East.
I am heartened by the rise of Western dhamma -- the spread of the teachings of Buddha and other Eastern wisdom traditions in the industrialized West. I am equally amazed -- and bemused -- by a symmetrical rise of Christianity in the East, particularly in China.
Since the 1960s, the Western culture have been deeply influenced by the wisdom traditions of the East. Think of the Beatles and Steve Jobs. Yoga and meditation have become mainstream; "karma" and "mindfulness" have entered daily vocabulary.
On the other side of the globe, China is on its way to becoming the country with the most number of Christians in the world. According to conservative estimates, there are now 100 million Christians in China today -- more than the 87 million members of the Communist Party. Many people have found spiritual refuge in God and Jesus, when the nominally Communist ideology and the Mega-church of Capitalism have failed them.
What explains this symmetrical spread of dhamma in the West, and the gospel in the East?
Both the industrialized West and the industrializing East are ill -- affected by the same disease of greed, hatred and ignorance. Thankfully, a society is a conscious super-organism that self-organizes and self-heals. All modern societies are collectively looking for a cure for its Industrial-growth Syndrome. Given that this illness is essentially a psychosomatic one, the Earth's emergent consciousness is looking to spiritual teachings and ancient wisdom for salvation.
There's a Chinese saying, "the monk from out of town is more holy." The monk from your own town is too familiar to be taken seriously, and his teachings too cliche. Christianity in the West have too much baggage, too much institutional corruptions and scandals over the years. Similarly, Buddhist temples in China are often money-making machines these days. Therefore, when the missionaries bring fresh teachings to a new land thirsty for spiritual rainfall, they find eager audience and fertile soil.
From what I see, the Eastern wisdom teachings have done much to alleviate the sickness of the Western societies. I am not as familiar with Christianity in China, but have hope that it will do the same in repairing the social fabric and moral bottom line for the Middle Kingdom.
Maybe, in this grand, millennial swap of spiritual teachings, East and West will deepen their mutual understanding, and come to realize the similarity in their respective heritages -- and to wake up, together.