874: Birth in Fire

Praise be unto His Eminence Vajra Guru Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche, His Holiness the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, Dharma Protector Achi, the Lineage Gurus, the Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas.

Perhaps you know that our Guru, H.E. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche, through Glorious Jewel Company is allocating a enormous amount of effort and assets in promotion of my artistic work beginning with the upcoming exhibition in SYS Memorial Hall. Besides the professional exhibition preparation, there is a book, short film and so on. I have seen up close how Rinpoche has conceived of everything and how meticulous he is in every detail with this as he is with everything.

My surprise when Rinpoche proposed this project was outdone by the immense gratitude. I feel- gratitude of two kinds: firstly, for the wellspring of faith and absolute trust in Rinpoche bursting inside me. As Rinpoche reminds us, faith is a treasure every aspirant needs. Secondly, Rinpoche iterated that my work, or rather, my ability to continue working, should serves as proof of how Dharma can completely change one’s life. Without Rinpoche’s Dharma teachings I would not be standing here, I have learned that the other day in Europe, Rinpoche said that had I not met him, I would be lying in the hospital now, falling and rising in the sea of suffering, let alone create my work or hold a solo exhibition. The calibre of this exhibition is way beyond what we could have done on our own. Apart from the money invested in this endeavor—which would have surpassed five or six million NTD—Rinpoche arranged for former National palace museum director, now director of Glorious Jewel Cultural and Historical Stirs Foundation, Fung Ming-chu, to supervise the curatorial process and the production of the book, as well as for professional filmmakers to produce the introduction video.

I hope that other people with the fate might be influenced to make their own steps to the Dharma. I always have thought that art is special because it touches people’s hearts directly. During the process of this exhibition, I saw up close how clearly Rinpoche planned and arranged things, often what he does is beyond what we could understand or planned for ourselves. When asked to write something about my work, I wrote poems in English and asked Hsiao Chen to translate them. However, after closely examining the content, Rinpoche realized that the Chinese translations did not reflect clearly what I was feeling. In midst of his busy schedule, Rinpoche personally corrected the translations. Therefore, one can see that apart from being a true connoisseur in art, one who appreciates and understands beauty, our guru’s achievement in his practice and wisdom has enabled him to understand all forms of knowledge of the world. Once I asked Rinpoche how to have compassion and do compassionate actions? “Do what I say,” he replied, simply. This exhibition, the first step in the project is not about me, my art or ideas. It is about Buddha Dharma and art, Buddha Dharma and life; it is proof that Buddha Dharma can transform our lives though a multitude of ways.

This is not the first time I and my family have been the unworthy beneficiaries of Rinpoche’s compassionate care. After I took refuge I learned I was sick with hepatitis C and the doctor at Tai Da said I probably had two years to live. On being informed, Rinpoche said, “Not serious!” and blessed me. That was five years ago. Later, another doctor found tumors on my liver but after I told Rinpoche the doctor could not find them. In my work I often have to carry heavy things, but I always kept a regular schedule and was proud of my health. However, through often lifting heavy objects, I crushed a vertebrate and displaced another. Time passed and it worsened with the addition of Osteoporosis caused by my hepatitis, pain increased and movement was difficult. I even began to have difficulty lifting light things. I asked Rinpoche if I should have surgery and he said it would be dangerous. Moreover, he revealed to me the karmic cause was shooting birds in my youth and even if the surgery was successful the karma would just come back in another form. I knew it would be better to accept the pain and inconvenience; again he blessed me and a few days later Rinpoche arranged for me to get acupuncture treatment from Dr. Wen shixiong, who would not take any fee because Rinpoche sent me to him.

Gradually, I have regained the ability to perform some of the movements that I use to do daily. Further, I am able to throw clay at the wheel again. I know I must cherish each day and focus on every movement I make, and that impermanence of life, as Rinpoche reminds us so often, is indeed true and definite. Although the first feeling that occurs to me each morning is pain, which can hinder my movements, I continue to throw clay. While sometimes I get help from others to cut wood, I often still perform the task on my own, cutting and arranging 2-3 tons of wood at times. I should report that each firing uses 6-10 tons of wood. Arranging the kiln is a key component of the firing, but it requires that I bend my back often, which can impact the condition of one’s vertebrae. Since I have started to fire the kiln again, I have been able to arrange and fire three times in a row. Originally I thought I would have to give up making ceramics because it is not only physically demanding but also requires repeated bending of one’s back, which are impossible movements for someone with vertebrae injuries and advanced hepatitis to perform.

I repent that I was not a disciple when my parents died. Because of the pleading of Xiaochen and Tai Rinpoche mercifully sent them to Tien Jie in Chod puja even though they did not know Buddha Dharma.

Tai went to high school in America but we never had to worry about her. Rinpoche took care of her, I know. When she came back once or twice a year Rinpoche would quiz her and give his blessing. Then she attended university for five years. Although she had a partial scholarship it wasn’t long into the first year that we experienced difficulty paying the school fee. It was a couple of months before we found out Rinpoche had been paying the bill…and he continued to do so until her graduation. It is impossible to find words to express our gratitude. Once when seeking an audience with Rinpoche, I said that even our own family members could not help so I knew Rinpoche is closer to us than our own family. “Buddha said he was closer than one’s own family,” was Rinpoche’s reply. Rinpoche watched over Tai all the time, even telling her what side of the street to walk on and commenting on the people around her. Now Rinpoche continues to take care of her, employing in the Glorious Jewel Company, while advising and sponsoring her to get licensed as an architect. Only the children of Rinpoche’s disciples get such a “god” father

When I thought to offer my works to Rinpoche, he declined and instead conceived of this exhibition by first asking me to organize my pieces, and then ordering custom boxes for the works. Rinpoche also arranged to have certificates made to ensure the quality of each piece. For some time I started to worry about how much was invested in the endeavor. I have been given the priviledge to focus only on my creative work while Rinpoche continued to use his own resources to promote the works of an obscure artist like myself. I thought of the matter for a long time and realized that really I am not special at all, but rather, the guru and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas treat all beings equally. I have been given blessings from the guru, and try hard to remember his teachings in my everyday life by relinquishing my attachments. Once I was very fixated on my ceramics, but now I understand that in facing life and death, everything seems but like a dream. Now I often feel a sense of ease in making ceramics not because I have attained anything, but because I believe that by following the teachings of Rinpoche we can all be relieved of reincarnation.

Twenty four years ago, we would daily walk from where we were living in Ren Ai Rd. to our shop off Xinyi Rd. Daily, we would pass by a tea shop that was down stairs in a basement. I think there was a big painting hanging above the stairway. Curious but in a hurry, we never went down the stairs. Now I know that was Rinpoche’s tea shop. Sometimes I wonder how different our lives might have been if we had gone down those stairs. During SARS, Rinpoche had come to our shop for dinner but we only knew about it years later. I guess our fate was not ripe yet.
When Hsiao chen and Tai became Rinpoche’s disciples I was following Theravada and practicing the meditation and had no inclination to change. Glorious Jewel Company commissioned me to make 100 large containers for puer tea discs. At the time I did not understand why they would not use those large Pu Er tea cans commonly found in tea shops in Taiwan. I did not understand how Rinpoche truly treasured tea and understood the value of woodfired ceramics. Proud and attached to my own views, and unwilling to take on mass production, I didn’t want to do it. But eventually, knowing that there was no specific deadline I took on the case, and even at a point thought that it would be easy. I had no idea that Rinpoche had an insight about our situation and helped us this way. Actually, as it was 2008 our situation was very precarious. And the place we were renting in Yangmingshan had been sold and we were asked to move but because of the commission, the landlord let us remain until it’s completion. At the time, we barely had enough money to move, while my health was declining, I was even losing interest in continuing ceramic work. So the job helped us in a few ways. It challenged my skills and my pride. We fired the kiln three times during the summer and completed the order within six months. I learned a lot and though I really wasn’t satisfied with the results, Rinpoche accepted everything. Now I understand that when the guru gave us an opportunity to do something good, we are seldom “ready,” but rather in need of good fortune. I also realized that what I had gained in the process of taking on cases from the Glorious Jewel Company was way beyond what I gave. I also repent that while so much was given to me I was not able to take part in sustaining Rinpoche’s temple-building endeavor. I am ashamed that when Rinpoche’s efforts to help us are endless and bountiful, my calculations caused everything to go backwards on the path of practice.

Then Rinpoche had another challenging commission but I had no studio or kiln. Rinpoche assigned Chu Dingyi and Su Xiaoyan to take me around searching for a place. Finally, Rinpoche let me build a small kiln on his own land in Yilan. It was a humbling challenge working and living in a place with no water, but with rain water leaking into the kiln and with a neighbor that would start at 5 am cursing me, complaining about my smoke. I couldn’t wait to finish. However, I believe that it all happened for a reason. If we accept his teachings, If we let him, Rinpoche will be our Marpa to all aspiring Milarepa’s.

I was having unresolved conflicts in my mind about practice and daily life. Since I was 20, practice had been the main focus of my life. But when I began to have difficulties in practicing in daily life I finally decided to approach Rinpoche. I could not express myself clearly (in English) and Rinpoche words perplexed me a bit: he told me that he had married and divorced twice but never criticized his ex-wives, adding,” financial security is very important to Asian women.” I went away with a still mind. I went again the next week with clearly expressed questions about Dharma which Rinpoche answered easily. And I went back a couple more times. It was clear that What Rinpoche said was not from scripture but from his own profound realization. I decided though I knew little about the Vajrayana, I could entrust my life to this guru. I asked if he would accept me as his disciple and he the next day Rinpoche graciously performed the refuge puja.

Each Sunday in just two hours Rinpoche Teaches so much Dharma. I’m glad if I can catch hold of one main point which I can reflect on through the week. Last week Rinpoche berated us for our selfishness: everyone thinks of themselves first. I felt so ashamed. This is the real human disease; not cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and so on….; we are all diseased with thinking of ourselves. You can imagine how tiring it must be for Rinpoche when people don’t get this basic message. People expect Rinpoche’s job is to save them. That’s just like Christianity, “Jesus save us.” Buddha never said He will save anyone: there is suffering and the way out of suffering. Isn’t it easy to see? Rinpoche helps us so we can have a clear path to practice: to avoid doing evil, to practise good deeds and to purify the mind. Rinpoche has kept me going: actually I feel pain 24 hours a day but it is not suffering. I know I have still not adequately repented all my errors and evil deeds… but I cannot forget it is all cause and effect of my own making.

I want to say again that Rinpoche’s managing all of my works is not about me. I feel shy to see my photo on a poster or book cover printed by Glorious Jewel Company and I am humbled to have had help out these past few months. I am not special. Rinpoche is special. He becomes intimately involved in our lives when we give up selfishness, fix our mind on benefiting others and trust Buddha and Dharma in thought, word and deed. No matter what work or activity you do, Rinpoche can help you do it better! Perhaps I am lucky to have already prepared to die. At 65, I felt free of ambition; I just liked making pots, but now I am ambitious for Rinpoche! Early on I asked Rinpoche if too much is invested in this project. Rinpoche just replied, “You do your work, I’ll do mine.” Our guru is a true and rare gem of a practitioner. We must cherish the opportunity to practice under his guidance and change our worldly ways with respect and repentance, such an opportunity is rare. Rinpoche does not need our thanks. Employing Dharma to change ourselves would be our greatest thanks. But I cannot help but declare unlimited thanks to my Guru, H.E. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche! May he continue to turn the wheel of Dharma for all sentient beings!

Respectfully written by Evan Shaw, Group 7, on August 27th, 2017

« previous – Return Traces of Liberating Beings Next »

Updated on September 12, 2017