In the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Among the twelve animals in the zodiac, the horse is one of the favorite animals of Chinese people because it represents stamina and strength. This year, I wrote two couplets for the Spring Festival. One of them has some deeper meaning in Chan and those who are familiar with Chan practice will understand the meaning in it. Both of these couplets are about the ox (the zodiac animal for the year 2013) and the horse. In Buddhism, we have a verse refers to those who have great aspirations or the vows of a bodhisattva. It says, “In order to become a dragon or an elephant among the buddhas, one must first be a horse and an ox among sentient beings.” It is saying that being of service to sentient beings is foremost. In this sense, the horse and ox are great examples as we practice serving all sentient beings in various ways.
Here, the animals are symbolic. They are beings that are close to the human realm, and in many ways we rely on them. For instance, in the Chinese language, the fastest speed is “on horse” (meaning “immediate”). Why? Because in early times the horses was the fastest transportation. The Chinese characters “馬上來” (coming on a horse) means coming immediately or right away. Now even in this modern time of technology, we still use “horsepower” to measure the power of machinery and automobiles.
As we know, these two animals, the ox and the horse, have played very important roles in human history. Each of them has their own strength. Take the horse, for example. Where do we usually put it? On the plain. A horse runs fast on the open plain. There are stories in history where horses were employed in wars because they were the fastest and sometimes determined who won the battle because, without a horse, messages cannot be communicated as quickly in order to have an advantage over the enemy. Of course, this is an example with a negative sense. Nonetheless, at times it was necessary to rely on horses as transportation. When we see the words “galloping horse”, we easily visualize a steed with its awesome form… With “information” at hand, we can accomplish things more easily especially at times when speed is critical in a given situation.
What about the ox? Where do we usually put it? In the rice field, because the ox is the best to plough the rice field. When oxen work in the rice field to prepare the soil, the farmers can expect to have a better yield of crops.
Just like the symbols of the horse and ox, each of us also has our own strength. We know that, if a horse is put to work in the rice field, on one hand, it would be a waste; on the other, the horse would not be happy. Similarly, if a horse is put to work in the rice field, it will be a waste; at the same time, the horse will not be happy. if an ox is put in the open plain and is expected to run fast, the ox will not be happy, either. It is not so different for us human beings. Therefore, we must discover and understand our own strength, and utilize it to maximize our capacity in contributing to the society. For example, some of you are very good at decorating the Buddha hall for this ceremony; the volunteers in the kitchen right now are good at cooking so you can enjoy wonderful food after this ceremony; and there are also those monastic and lay practitioners who are great in leading our chanting after my talk…. All of them are playing their role as best as they can. If you think, “Well, I do not know how to do those things, I can only do prostrations to the Buddha,” then come and do prostrations to Buddha. If you think, “What if I can’t do anything like that?” still, you can simply come, or perhaps sweep the floor…. Regardless, we welcome everyone to learn and realize their strength and utilize it in serving the community. This is what I wish to speak to you about today at this year’s Spring Festival. I hope you will do the same at home as well as your work place, and bring joy and peace to yourself and others.
To conclude this brief talk, I wish everyone health and happiness. To those who study and practice Buddhism, I wish that you be filled with the joy of Dharma and may you grow in Wisdom. Thank you for joining us to celebrate the first day of the New Year!
(A section of the Dharma Talk given in Chinese by Master Chi Chern at Chinese New Year Celebration at Malaysia Buddhist Association at Taiping on January 1st, 2014)