Working with others is essential to progressing in our spiritual practice. We must be vigilant and constantly self-reflect. When we remain untouched by conflict, we learn the wisdom of an unwavering heart.
-Dharma Master Cheng Yen
Tzu Chi volunteers work together to better serve those in need. In Tzu Chi, as in any organization, people bring different habits, religious and cultural backgrounds, and experiences with them. By always having gratitude, respect, and love in our interactions with others, we transcend differences and create a beautiful group that exists in unity and harmony. If the members of the community are not understanding, it is easy for these habits to spark disputes and create disharmony.
When the Buddha was alive, his monastic community also had to address the issue of how to work with new people from many different backgrounds. The monks led an orderly life with prescribed activities at certain times. In the evening, they recited the Buddha's teaching for the day. Some worked late into the night and had to rely on a timekeeper to wake them in the morning. Everyone took turns serving as the timekeeper.
One time, a new monk who had just left his lay life to follow the Buddha was chosen to be the timekeeper. Yet he could not tell when he should wake people up. So he started calling for everyone to get up whenever he awoke, whether it was early in the morning or late at night. He disrupted the rhythm of everyone's rest. During the day, the monks started drifting off while the Buddha taught. At night, no sooner had they fallen asleep than they were awoken by the timekeeper. After a few days of this, the monks were completely exhausted. They became angry and discontent, so they gathered to discuss this problem.
The Buddha saw them huddled together,so he asked, “What is the matter?”
One of the monks stepped forward. “This new monk cannot tell time. He wakes us up at all hours of the night. He is disrupting our routine, and we are too tired to listen to your teachings!”
The Buddha walked over and sat down with a smile. Everyone surrounded him to listen as he addressed their situation. The Buddha told them this story:
In ancient times, there was a group of spiritual practitioners who studied under a renowned teacher. For years they had a rooster who crowed at the same time each morning. This is how they knew when to wake up and study. But one day, the rooster unexpectedly passed away. Suddenly they did not know when to wake up, and when they did, they could not tell what time it was. So they searched for a replacement.
practitioners would often practice in a cemetery to learn about life and death. There he saw a rooster running around between tombs. He caught it, then brought it back and locked it in a cage, hoping that it would crow at the right time.
But the captured rooster had no sense of time. It crowed whenever it wanted to, day or night. It failed to crow at the right time and crowed at all the wrong times. It greatly disrupted the routine of these religious practitioners, and everyone quickly became exhausted.
One day, when the rooster began crowing at the wrong time yet again, one of the exhausted spiritual practitioners yanked open the rooster’s cage, dragged it out, and snapped its neck. At this moment, their spiritual teacher came out.
This teacher stood next to the dead rooster, sadly shook his head, and sighed. He told the practitioners, “Didn't you know that this rooster grew up in a cemetery? It grew up in the wild, so it never learned to crow at the proper time. That is why it disrupted your routine. You killed it without it ever understanding what it had done wrong. It just never learned to do this.”
At this point, the Buddha addressed his monastic followers. "You must realize that this monk who has just arrived has never been trained in the ways of the monastic community. He is the rooster that grew up in the cemetery. All of you are the practitioners who got angry at the rooster. As for me, I am that teacher. I hope you now understand my teaching and can eliminate your anger. Do not keep repeating the same mistake.”
In spiritual practice, and in daily life, we must interact with others. When we are in a group, let us treat each other with love and help newcomers learn the ways of the community. Some people are disruptive simply because they do not know about or understand the rules. If we are affected by these disruptions, instead of giving rise to anger, let us practice patience and understanding. This is how we can work in unity, harmony, mutual love, and concerted effort according to the Buddha's teachings.