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The Kindness and Sharing of Friends
Dean’s Talk at the 112-1 Semester Opening Assembly
By Dean Prof. Chao-Shun Kuo

2023/09/20 (112-1 期初全院集合勉励话语)


Compassion in Chinese is expressed as a compound word, whereas in Sanskrit, it can be broken down into two concepts: "maitrī" for kindness towards friends (mitra) and "karuṇā" for gentle compassion towards those who are unfortunate. When combined, the two words "慈" and "悲" are interpreted as "removing suffering and bestowing happiness."

However, in Chinese, the term "慈" is often emphasized in the context of "慈孝" (filial piety), referring to the kindness parents show to their children, and the corresponding virtue of children showing filial piety to their parents. This differs slightly from the original Sanskrit focus on affectionate relationships among friends.


The educational theme for this semester at Yunshui Residential College is "Sharing." Sharing means passing on the goodness to others, as famously expressed in a coffee advertisement slogan: "Good things are meant to be shared with good friends." Therefore, it's particularly relevant to elaborate on this concept through the lens of kindness among friends.

As you all know, in our college, students come from various age groups, with both older and younger peers. Consequently, senior students may actually be much younger in age than their junior counterparts. In situations like this, students may sometimes feel awkward, leading to mutual address as "seniors (xue zhang) " 学长 out of respect. While this might seem to disrupt the traditional hierarchy based on age, it could also serve as an opportunity to foster a sense of equality in our campus ethics. After all, the care provided by senior students to their junior peers should never be turned into a hierarchical power dynamic.


The saying goes, "There is a sequence to hearing the Way, and each profession has its specialization." Many of our fellow students in the department may have had various professional skills before entering the Buddhist Studies program. It's just that they were drawn to the study of Buddhism and chose to specialize in it. These students may have relatively limited experience in Buddhist studies, but their life experiences or other professional abilities may be profound compared to many senior students. Therefore, showing mutual respect and learning from each other is an important attitude in our academic community.


I look forward to each and every one of our students for not hesitating to share their knowledge and experiences, and to contribute what they excel in with other fields. Sharing knowledge, experiences, and abilities does not diminish what you already possess; instead, it deepens and refines your existing skills and knowledge. When everyone can share, everyone becomes a senior, and as we mutually uplift each other, our academic community will foster an atmosphere of goodwill and mutual respect.
Rather than just discussing the merits of generosity, let us start with the kindness of sharing among friends. This is also the reason why we have the "Service Practicum" component in our practice course.

Anger and the Practice of Forbearance

2023/05/24 (111-2 期末全院集合勉励话语)

All of you at the college, in the course of experiencing communal living, have likely encountered difficulties, such as (i) roommates with conflicting living habits and (ii) cooking-serving rotation team members being late, absent, problematic, etc. For the former (i) kind of conflict, in addition to mutual empathic understanding, we should do our best to negotiate, communicate, and reach a consensus; for the latter (ii) kind of conflict, it is necessary to remind and encourage everyone to sincerely respect communal duties and to avoid degrading otherwise laudable service to the community into subpar disservice.

People inevitably develop resentment and even anger toward disagreeable situations. According to psychology, one should not repress emotions in order to avoid dysregulation, but Buddhism teaches us to practice forbearance. Are these two notions in conflict?

Resentment, or anger, has a fundamental characteristic: it arises when we perceive others to harm 'me.'  Even street dogs that sense encroachment of their territory will bark and bare their teeth as an instinctive, primal defense response. Similarly, if the territory of your 'self' is very large, then you will constantly feel threatened or impinged and get angry often; if the territory of your 'self' is smaller, you are less likely to get offended. When there is 'no-self', there is no longer any possibility of anger arising from perceived intrusions.

But there is another situation in which anger may arise: shifting blame to someone else (despite the absence of any actual harm or threat) allows us to self-righteously proclaim our own inculpability. Such scapegoating is yet another instinctual ego-preservation response. From this perspective, the emergence of anger is always closely related to ego-defensive instinct.

As such, when psychology says not to suppress emotions, it is not to deny that we all have such instinct. Only by acknowledging our ego can we begin to transcend it. To take responsibility for others' faults is indeed unfair. So, I believe that the practice of forbearance does not require people to deny their emotions or endure senseless injustice, but rather to recognize their emotions and to transcend instinctive reactions, transcend our habitual self-defensive mentalities, and bear the stress of adverse situations with grit while skillfully handling the task at hand.

When others' mistakes implicate me, I can express my disapproval of their actions to them, but I don't have to stay simply at the level of vindicating myself from undue grievance or venting my frustration: I can have the greater motivation of wanting to positively influence others to bring out their innate potentials for virtue so as to ultimately benefit the greater community. At this point, the practice of forbearance includes not only tenacity and fortitude, but also the courage to do what is not easy but is right: to correct others so they can improve. To frankly communicate what is necessary without anger is a practice of wisdom and courage that can genuinely benefit others.

The practice of forbearance is not about making ourselves into submissive enablers, pushovers, or martyrs and allowing injustice and wrongdoing to proliferate. The practice of forbearance is about inspiring ourselves and others to be strong and enduring, transcending our limited ego-preservation instincts, and developing the courage to withstand pressures as well as the compassion and wisdom to solve problems. Therefore, the practice of egolessness, which underlies the practice of forbearance, completely transcends ego's limitations and exhorts everyone towards their innate potentials for virtue, just as in the Lotus Sūtra, the Bodhisatva Sadāparibhūta (Never Disparaging) never regressed in his willingness to honor sentient beings despite their constant disrespect of him.

The story of Kṣāntirṣi (who endured senseless mutilation of his body) in the Mahāyānasūtras is quite famous, but as I have said before, the Buddhist sūtras cannot be read only literally. If you read with the above-stated points in mind, you might understand another level of meaning. I wish you all the best!


2022/3/3 (期初全院集合勉励话语)