Purpose of Cultivation: Goals and Successes

This is a more personal article, inspired by one of Dharma Instructor Robert’s English Dharma class.  Coming from a bicultural perspective, and having been raised in Canada to parents from Hong Kong, I find that a large part of east asian cultures is an emphasis on achievement and success, and often this is found in interactions between families with subtle (sometimes hilariously passive-aggressive) comparisons between relatives on the successes of their offspring. My friend’s mother would state to my mother: “I wish my daughter performed as well as your daughter [insert academics and activities here], your daughter is always so loud and active”, while my mother would reply: “I wish my daughter would sit quietly and nicely like your daughter. Your daughter is so nice and lady-like and gentle. Mine just runs off all her energy, she’ll be skinny forever.” Reading between the lines, I find these interactions amusing (now). 

However, our Dharma instructor noted on the issue of practice.  A lot of people value the outcomes of cultivation and hence, value the process to get there. In Vajrayana and Tantrayana Buddhism, we emphasis the practice (and the action).  Even TBS notes that 2023 is the year of practice. However, our intent to practice shouldn’t be to show off or to compare how many rounds of mantras and sutras (and compare with others), our goal should be to do them sincerely and focus on transforming our own karma and purifying oneself.  While, as an action-oriented person (as noted by my mother), I like to emphasis the efforts of practice, and I understand that recording the number of rounds of chanting mantras in a public forum may be good for those who find it difficult to be accountable to oneself. However, if the intent goes from personal development to showing off, that is where the error lies.   This is quite common of course – and you often see it in children with high self-efficacy (faith in their own abilities), in which they will often want to show off their abilities (despite lack of proficiency) purely for approval and attention.  As you can tell, it’s very immature when adults do the same (in any field). This is why we have the 11th vow in our Fourteen Root Tantric Vows: (we must not) “11. Indulge in one’s own accomplishments and forget the purpose of practicing the Vajrayana.”  

Often times, the most proficient are the most humble. I find that the members of the Chin Yin Temple are like that – humble, and always helping me learn and grow, but their proficiency in cultivating, knowledge of the temple practices, activities, roles and responsibilities, organization, etc… is very high.  Hence, while the intent to cultivate is our own, and for most, I do believe it is to grow in self-awareness, in transcendental awareness and in our own ability.  As long as we continue to focus on the true reason as to why we cultivate (our own growth and development) and not to take pride or gloat in our successes, we will continue to grow and become better, and people will know of your proficiency, you do not need to prove it once you have it.

By Dharma Assistant Yvonne Wong