Western Practitioner: Cultivating Our Image in Ordinary Society
Shared at the 2006 New York Falun Dafa Conference
(Clearwisdom.net) I moved to New York four and a half years ago. In this short time I have experienced tremendous life changes. Basically, in this time I matured into a young man with two feet planted firmly in this human society: my transient days as a boy fresh out of college are gone and I have a full time job as a high school teacher while pursuing a Master's degree in education. I married three years ago and now call myself a father to a six-month-old baby boy. I ran for political office twice, losing the first time but winning this past November. And most recently, I joined the Celestial Band and helped record several songs after playing a brass instrument for only two months.
Like many Dafa disciples, I juggle many different responsibilities. On some projects I help out sporadically when I have the opportunity. On other projects where I play more of an integral role, I help out consistently. I have many ordinary friends and extended family relationships that I dutifully attend to. I also try to continually utilize new relationships through work and school to plant the seeds of Dafa in new acquaintances. All of these roles are difficult to manage and at times I am overwhelmed. But precisely because they are difficult to manage I am reminded of the mighty virtue that is ours to establish at this time.
In recalling these last four and a half years of living in New York I have found that there is one steady theme at each step of the way and that is one of transcending humanness while maximally conforming to human society. This is a fundamental issue for all cultivators of Dafa, as the most outstanding feature of Dafa cultivation is that our main spirits obtain the gong. When we are able to transcend humanness while maximally conforming to human society, we have validated Dafa at this level and successfully helped Teacher in rectifying the Fa. But whether we can truly act as a Sage at every moment--"bring[ing] forth lofty aspirations while minding minor details," is a test for us at each step of the way that will determine the height and vastness of our realms.
Throughout these years of cultivating Dafa and assisting in Fa-Rectification, I have always been aware of the connection between how people think of me and how they look at Dafa. In order to leave people with a good impression of Dafa through our own actions, we must have lofty aspirations while minding the minor details. It requires righteous thoughts that place us out of humanness. It also requires us to, at the same time, honor our humanness--that is, our roles in society, our specific talents and characteristics, our karmic relationships and everything else that makes up our precious corner of human society. In this most precious of precious times, where one thought can determine a being's future, we Dafa disciples must not take this lightly. Indeed, Teacher has taught us that many people have a good impression of Dafa precisely because of our conduct. Conversely, I believe that the opposite is true as well. When our conduct has not been good, or when we have not harmonized our human lives well, we have left people with a bad impression of Dafa and thus endangered their future as well as the myriad of beings that they represent.
When I first arrived in upstate New York to help out on a Dafa project, I found myself living a life that challenged many of my most basic human notions. I always preferred living in a big city, associating with the more educated and culturally elite. Instead, now I was living in a small, rural town. My upbringing made me an outsider for sure. Moreover, I was living there with several other practitioners, Chinese practitioners, the only Chinese many of these townspeople had ever seen in their lives to be more precise. This association made me even more of an outsider. My very first thought when I arrived at this town was that I wanted to leave and never look back. But I knew at the time that I couldn't leave and that this was my path. Despite my initial plans to work there for only a month and then move on, I resigned myself to living there full time. I took on a local part-time job and decided to cultivate myself in a small, rural New York town.
Within a little more than a year of living there, my cultivation path took somewhat of a turn, a turn uphill. With encouragement from those around me I enlightened to the fact that I should run for local political office. Never in a million years would I ever have humanly desired to do this. It went against so many of my human notions. Nevertheless, I knew that this too would be my path and that I would have to forge ahead. To prepare for this I immersed myself in various town activities. Because of the nature of small towns and their rumor mills, just by virtue of who I was--an outsider associated with the only Chinese people in town and their religious practice of Falun Gong--most townspeople knew who I was, at least by name. I really stuck out.
Unfortunately, however, most of what they knew about me was not based on truth. Small rural towns in the Dharma-ending period seem to not be readily open to Dafa. Many bad rumors had been spread throughout the town about the practitioners living there and even about Falun Gong. If I were ever to be successful at running for political office and ultimately changing the town's views about Dafa, thus giving them a chance to be saved, I would have to overcome these rumors.
I volunteered for a summer recreation program that oversaw activities for some 50 towns-children. I volunteered for the local fire department. I even voluntarily organized garbage cleanup days amongst the townspeople. Through these activities I was able to meet more and more townspeople. Soon I had established relationships with people who invited me to their homes. I even received friendly gifts and Christmas cards from neighbors. Through these relationships I was gradually able to clarify the truth about Falun Gong more in depth. But on a much wider scale, I was able to give people an image of a well-bred, upstanding citizen with good character. By extension, this image gave them better thoughts about Falun Gong and the practitioners living in their town.
When it came time to actually run for office, a remarkable thing happened. A reporter came to write a story about an after school program for children that I was overseeing. But as soon as he laid his eyes on me and saw how I interacted with one of the children, his attention shifted. In a mysterious but genuine way, he said, "You're really special. You are very intelligent. You've experienced and overcome great pain in your life. And you have compassion." I replied, "You're correct. I am also running for mayor." Without missing a beat, he said, "I will write a story on you."
He took a couple of good pictures of me and wrote one of the best truth-clarification articles I have ever read. It depicted me as the near-perfect All-American man--kind, trustworthy to the max, very capable, and, at the same time, concerned and touched by the persecution of Falun Gong in China. It was written perfectly for my small town audience, leaving no doubt about my good character while adding just enough information about Falun Gong. The article was so effective that I included it on all of my campaign literature.
As I tirelessly went door to door, I felt that I was giving people the best chance that they had to be saved. I primarily thought of leaving them with a positive impression of me and, by extension, Falun Gong. Only secondarily did I want them to vote for me. It wasn't appropriate for me to directly clarify the facts to people on their doorstep while I was asking them to vote for me, but I would leave them with a good impression of my character and what I represented. For those that weren't home, I left a campaign flyer that contained the article and sent out a righteous thought that they would read it.
I campaigned like this for four straight months. It was a terribly difficult period for me. I was all alone. I had no political backing from any of the parties in the town and meanwhile the old forces were stirring up resentment towards the other practitioners in the town and the project that we worked on together. There were times when I couldn't even eat because I would immediately throw up. I couldn't sleep well and my study and practice were not of good quality. In addition I had just begun a new full-time job as a teacher and had just gotten married. The stress caused by the convergence of all of these factors made my righteous thoughts falter, and I had no other recourse than to suffer through those four long months.
I persisted because I knew what I had enlightened to was correct. I was giving the people of this town the best chance to be saved. In the end, I was a distant third place, capturing 13% of the vote. But in this process, even if people did not vote for me, perhaps some of the lies and bad thoughts they harbored about me, the other practitioners in the town, and Falun Gong had been shaken loose.
After the loss I continued to volunteer for different activities in the town and continued to form relationships. In November 2005, I ran again for city council member. This time I was victorious, winning by a margin of 15%. It meant that over half of the people in the town had a positive image of me and "this Falun Gong" that I was un-mistakenly associated with.
My victory was and is a constant reminder that it is so vitally important for Dafa disciples to pay attention to our image in ordinary society. We should pay attention to more fully utilizing our inborn talents and karmic relationships. In many cases, qualities of our human shells, when strengthened with wisdom and righteous thoughts, can play an enormous role in clarifying the facts and saving sentient beings. For instance, my karmic relationships in this lifetime make me a husband and a father. When my son was born six months ago--right in the heat of my campaign--I enlightened to the fact that his birth, whether people are tacitly aware of it or not, immediately put me into a new category in people's eyes, and in many ways elevated my status among ordinary people. When people know that I am in fact a very responsible father who takes the time to change my son's diapers and take him on walks and so on, they feel a sense of familiarity if they have children themselves. They are more ready to accept me and everything I say and everything I am associated with as "normal." This familiarity they have with me can be very powerful in determining how they view Dafa.
As another example, before cultivation and in my first several years of cultivation, I tended to be somewhat miserly when it came to buying material things such as clothes, vehicles, and furniture. But as I have discovered that my role as a Dafa disciple is to be more or less in the public spotlight, acting as a representative and an unofficial spokesman for Dafa, these tendencies are not necessarily correct. Sentient beings might get the wrong image of me if I were too thrifty.
These two simple examples underscore the point that we should not underestimate the importance of our image in ordinary society. We are all a part of ordinary society and everything we are doing is establishing Mighty Virtue precisely because we are validating Dafa in ordinary society. We each have our karmic relationships and innate qualities that represent not only large segments of the colossal firmament but also precious segments of human society and culture.
Before closing, I wish to touch upon one more essential point to this issue of balancing our human sides with our divine missions. In a nutshell, we must always hold Dafa in our hearts at every moment. When we stress our human sides too much, then we lose sight of our missions at this time and create long detours for our cultivation and for sentient beings. I found that in my role as a young, budding politician this was very easy to forget. I necessarily had to fit in and be accepted by people around me. I had to appear objective--just handing out a Dafa flyer wouldn't do. However, there were many instances and perhaps even long stretches where, because I was overly concerned with acceptance of my human side, I missed opportunities to clarify the facts directly or pave an even more righteous path distinct from the ordinary.
Thank you, everyone. Please offer helpful criticism where appropriate.
Thank you, Teacher.