To Be Flexible

The wife of a certain devotee had always been tightfisted, never supporting any charitable causes in the community. Her husband requested the guidance of Chan Master Mokusen, inviting the Master to his home to talk to his wife. Upon seeing the wife, the Chan Master opened his palm and asked, “What if my hand should stay this way, unable to close?”

The wife replied, “That would be abnormal!”

Then the Chan Master clenched his hand into a fist and asked again,
“What if it were to be clenched all the time and would not open up?”

The wife answered, “That would also be abnormal!”

The Chan Master then explained, “If we do not cherish what we have and give everything to others, that would be abnormal. On the other hand, if we hang on tightly to every penny we have, that would also be abnormal!” After saying these words, the Chan Master left. The wife realized the abnormality of her reluctance to support charitable work.

There are many people in this world who are happy to help others, but do not accept others’ kindness in return. Though it is clear they do not do for recognition, their behavior is abnormal. However, if we only crave the gifts of others and are unwilling to contribute to the community, not willing to donate even a penny, that too is abnormal.

Buddhism advocates “making connections”. Both giving to and receiving from others is equally important. As the saying goes, “Donations of wealth and the Dharma are both equal.” Upon accepting even just a drop of water from others, we should return it with a fountain of gratitude. If we give to others, we should appreciate the opportunity to create connections with them. Giving and receiving should always be a two-way street, fair and equal. Being flexible both ways is the appropriate way to conduct ourselves.

As the saying goes, “a true man is able to bend and flex.” Those who truly understand wealth and property are able to give as well as to receive. When we sleep, we should be able to turn to the left as well as the right before we settle down for the night. If we were only able to bend and not stretch, or vice versa, then we would be abnormal. Therefore, we should be able to give before we receive, receive after we give. Our wealth comes from the community in the first place. It is only natural that we spend some of it for the community. Knowing how to transform one’s own wealth into benefits for the public is the key to a wealthy life.

Flexibility is not only important for handling problems. Flexibility is also the way to live a healthy life and maintain good relations with others. On the journey of life, when we encounter obstacles, we must adapt: “To change when one comes to an end leads to a new path.” When a car reaches a dead end, turning around is the only option. When appropriate, we need to hold our heads high and show self-respect and dignity. But when it is time for us to be humble, we should be able to lower our heads to show our respect for others. If we blindly rush ahead in every situation, refusing to accommodate others, we will not be welcomed by them. On the other hand, if we are always obliging to others, never showing any self-respect, then others will look down on us. The best way to conduct ourselves is to be flexible. Flex and bend, advance and retreat as necessary.