Huineng’s Calling

640px-Lotus_Nelumbo_nucifera_Flower_Large_3264pxHuineng, the man who would become the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, was born about 1,400 years ago in a southern province of China. His father passed away when he was very young, so he grew up with his mother in extreme poverty. The only means of making a living for him was to chop firewood and sell it at the market.

One day, a customer purchased all of his firewood for the day. This was the owner of a nearby inn, so Huineng delivered the firewood there. As he collected his money and got ready to leave, something caught his attention. One of the guests at the inn was reciting a sutra. Huineng had no idea what he was hearing, but somehow the words resonated powerfully. He felt an awakening deep in his soul.

He approached the guest. “Sir, what is this sutra you are reciting?”

The guest said: “It is the Diamond Sutra.”

This made Huineng even more curious. “Sir, where do you come from, to have such a sutra with you?”

The guest was glad to explain: “I hail from the Dongchan Temple in Huangmei far to the north. It is headed by the Fifth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, with over a thousand disciples. I go to the temple to practice the rituals and listen to the teachings on the Diamond Sutra. The Master often encourages us to read and recite the Diamond Sutra. If we can keep doing that, one day we will be able to perceive our true nature and become the Buddha.”

Huineng was excited but also worried. He could feel this was his destiny. It was no accident for him to encounter this guest at this particular time in his life. He must go north to seek the wisdom taught by the Fifth Patriarch — except he had no idea how to do that. And what would happen to his elderly mother without him?

Fortunately, another guest at the inn came forward. Perhaps due to the powerful karma at work, this gentleman gave Huineng a substantial amount of money. “Take it,” he said. “Use it for your mother’s living expenses. Then, you can follow your heart and go to the Fifth Patriarch.”

Huineng was beyond grateful. He accepted this great kindness, made the appropriate arrangements, and bade his mother farewell.

The Tao

The beginning of Huineng’s story is all about the call of destiny. It’s that pivotal moment in life, when you come face-to-face with your ultimate purpose. How does one answer such a call? For Huineng, his response was never in doubt. He had no resources, but he knew he had to take action — no matter what.

The odds were stacked against him. Due to poverty, he could not count on even the bare necessities of life. In his environment, scarcity was commonplace while opportunities were few and far in between. When he wished to learn something, he found himself unable to afford any schooling. When he wished to travel somewhere, he found himself having no choice but to rely on his own two feet.

You and I have it much easier. Even a moderate standard of living for us is comparable to a life of wealth and luxury in ancient times. In our environment, opportunities and options open up at every turn. When we have the slightest bit of curiosity about any subject, we can call on endless torrents of information and knowledge. When we want to go anywhere for any reason, we have many choices and many ways to get there. We are truly blessed.

Thus, one thing we can draw from this story is the inspiration to follow Huineng’s example. When destiny comes calling, we cannot shrink back. Like Huineng, we have to recognize it is no accident, and it may be the manifestation of a powerful karmic affinity. We are meant to hear the call, and respond to it with a definite decision to move forward — no matter what.

We also have an obligation to help one another. When you receive your heavenly mission, people will come to your aid, seemingly out of nowhere. When others find themselves in the same position, you must likewise be there for them. Our mutual help can take many forms. For some, it can be material assistance, like the guest at the inn providing monetary support to Huineng. For others, it can be less tangible, like clear directions to expedite someone’s journey, or even just a word of encouragement to boost his or her morale.

What if you have yet to discover your calling? Everyone has a unique destiny, so the timing of your discovery is not something anyone can predict. If you aren’t quite sure yet about your life’s purpose, don’t worry. Continue following Huineng’s story and trust that everything will fall into place. Sooner or later, that pivotal moment will come — and you will find destiny knocking on your door.

Derek Lin
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