Dr. Steven Aung - 70th Birthday address to my students (June 12, 2016)

 

 

I would like to begin with an invitation: please join me in giving honor to Buddha Dhamma Sangha, our parents, teachers, holy people and all those who have come alongside us in good will.

 Buddham saranam gacchami

Dhammam saranam gacchami

Sanghan saranam gacchami

(3x)

 As a mentor and teacher for many of you in attendance today, I want to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done in making this celebration possible. My thankfulness comes from the teachings of Taosim, where students are regarded as those who instruct teachers. As Lao-Tzu has said, “Come with me; stay with me; study with me, overtake me and become greater than me”. As a teacher, I relate to the philosophy of this statement in respects to all of you. I have learned so much from all of you that I regard you as my teachers, today. Today, I speak to you as equals.

 

What is life without life experience? It is the experiences - the tangible people, places and circumstances that we encounter that awaken us and bring growth. Life is an endless supply of cause and effect, all reaching towards enlightenment as the final goal. Enlightenment does not come without effort, however; the pursuit of it requires all of us, as we face opportunities that hold the potential to further prepare us for our journey. These opportunities, along with guidance from teachers and holy people, coupled with consciousness and maturity, prepare us for this long and difficult journey that we face. I want to share with you today one small part of my life experience, where my encounters with opportunity has resulted in growth. I have found that five words carry great meaning in this regard, having been passed down to me by Sayadaw U Thila Wunta. I recite them 108 times a day as a committed practice. These five words are as follows:

 

“Metta, Karuna, Saydana, Mudita, Upekkha”

 

These words have changed the course of my life. They have formed in me the foundation for my life legacy while also leading me to humility and to a proper understanding of my place in this world. I know now that I am but a simple and humble man. I am nothing, because of these words.

 

This first word, metta, refers to “loving-kindness”. It speaks of loving others without discrimination; whether of gender, color, race, personality or status. It is very important that this type of love is protected and cultivated in each of our hearts towards one another. As a medical practitioner, metta is not only used for the giving of loving-kindness, but also for blessing and wishing, in our hearts, for the best for others. I have practiced each and every day the sending of metta to all of my patients and to the universe as a whole. Metta is the most powerful healing energy that I have encountered. If you have enemies, today, grant them metta instead of hate in return; counteract hatred with love. Hatred can never bring healing.

 

Sayadaw U Thila Wunta taught the importance of metta in medical practice, though it was reiterated to me by the Dhali Lama, whom I once asked, “What is the essence of Tibetan medicine?” He replied, “metta: loving-kindness”. From the profound influence of my teachers, I have grown to recognize the importance of granting metta to all of my patients. In medical practices, such as acupuncture and the administration of herbal medicines, as well as in an academic setting and during professional lectures, I have found that the granting of metta to others is the most effective means for transmitting healing to patients. Medical techniques and modalities are necessary, but independent of metta, complete healing cannot be fully realized. I understand that this is an abstract thought; however, I urge you today to pursue true and patient love for all humankind. Without it, our actions have little effect.

 

The second word, karuna, refers to the treatment of others like yourself. I recall a time when I was taking care of my dear mother who had suffered from a stroke and was resting in the hospital. I sat beside her one day, holding her hand and speaking to her softly. I was deeply grieved because I had not had the opportunity to visit her often enough, but also because I did not have the opportunity to treat her, myself. I shared my grief with my mother, though she was surprised to hear my solemn words. She said to me, “If you think your mother is the only one you have to take care of, you should not have become a doctor. You should be treating everyone my age as if they were your own mother. If they are younger than me, they are your daughter; if they are older than me, they are your grandmother.” I have found that this was indispensable advice. At the heart of this advice, is karuna.

 

Upon returning home, I reflected upon my mother’s words, thinking to myself, “I must treat all of my patients as if they were my own family.” I began to address my patients by these titles: “mother” and “daughter”, as was appropriate. I found this practice to be effective in cultivating relationships with patients and also fascinating, as studies in culture and history reveal the longevity and continuation of this practice in Burmese culture. Rarely do the Burmese refer to each other only by given names; but by titles of relationship - “mother”, “daughter”, “father”, “son”, “brother” and “sister. I have found that both in medicine and in larger life experience, utilizing this terminology and cultivating this perspective will encourage closer and deeper relationships in both personal and professional environments. Walking in karuna will cover your practice with love and compassion. It is in these relationships that true healing can become a reality. I give thanks to my mother, today, for reminding me of this virtue.

 

The third word I want you to learn today, saydana, refers to giving to others without expectation; it is selfless giving. True giving only occurs without attachments. True giving is ‘no strings attached’; it is open-heart giving. I recall a time when my father’s business was nationalized by the Burmese Communist Party in 1961. The communist government desired all property to be registered to the State. My brothers lived overseas at the time and I had received all responsibility for taking care of the accounts of my family; namely their possessions and property. I was uncomfortable with this and with the demands of the communist government, but it was at this time that my father spoke to me and gave me the following advice: “If you want to give anything, give it without expectation. It is the way to give dana. If you give with bad intentions, it will negatively influence your karma. Since all properties and possessions must now be given to the government without hope of payment in return, at least give it with saydana, so that you will receive good karma”. From this, I learned the importance of saydana. If you are required to give something today and you are gritting your teeth in resistance, I urge you to give it with an open heart and without expectation. You will be blessed.

 

The fourth word, mudita, refers to cultivating happiness for the successes of others. My Grandfather was both a great Chinese physician and the principle of a school. As principal, he sought to honor both the students and teachers of his school in public ceremonies due to an understanding of mudita. One day, as a young boy, I was sitting beside him at a school awards ceremony and my Grandfather spoke to me. He informed me that each year, all schools produce particularly outstanding students; those who are deserving of a reward for their achievements. He said to me, “Even though we do not receive the reward, we should be happy for the successes of others; your time will come. Mudita, happiness for the successes of others, is your success. It comes from the inside.” It is my Grandfather who modelled a life of mudita for me in this regard. He never failed to encourage his students to pursue righteousness and integrity, guiding them on the path to becoming model citizens in this world, while celebrating their achievements along the way.

 

The final word, upekkha, is a Buddhist word that is synonymous with “equanimity”. Equanimity has several meanings, one of which refers to the absence of discrimination. It is perfect neutrality; perfect judgment. The importance of this word, upekkha, was revealed to me through my grandmother; an educated and wise woman. In old Chinese traditions, women were previously prohibited from studying in institutions of higher education. She was, however, exceedingly wise and possessed the discernment of a lawyer. She could discern what was right and what was wrong in difficult situations and see through the moral blur that many individuals cannot. Her judgment was impartial and she acted as a peacemaker within the family. In the same regard, I urge you today cultivate neutrality of judgment by choosing the path of righteousness. You and I must continue to learn to recognize and choose what is right, no matter the cost.

 

My brothers and sisters, the final goal for us is enlightenment, but these “five fingers” will enable you to continue your pursuit of it. Just as we follow the light at the end of a dark tunnel, these “five fingers” will equip you and aid you in your pursuit of enlightenment. It may even take many generations to reach enlightenment, but what is important is to continue striving towards the goal, no matter what obstacles present themselves. We must transform what is negative into what is positive, and encourage what is positive towards even greater positivity. We all share human responsibility for the care of others and ourselves. We must use our knowledge and skills to help others, both professionally and personally. We must cultivate these virtues, not only for ourselves, but also for the next generation, who will inherit the earth after we have passed. It is only then that we can, having reached the end of our lives, say, “I have completed my task”. Please join me on the path of enlightenment.

 

May we now conclude by giving honor to Buddha Dhamma Sanga, our parents, teachers, holy people and all those who have come alongside us in goodwill.

 

Buddham saranam gacchami

Dhammam saranam gacchami

Sanghan saranam gacchami

(3x)

 


Amya, Amya, Amya; Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadh                                            

Lotus