A Cultivation Vow That Took More Than 4,900 Hours to Fulfill
(Minghui.org) I’m a Western practitioner and I obtained the Fa in June of 1999 in New York. I recently learned to read the Chinese version of Zhuan Falun fluently and I am now able to join the all-Chinese group study sessions.
My Fa study has gone from (in English) being mundane, tiresome, and superficial, to now (in Chinese) being completely focused, high energy, and enlightening. My story, however, is not one of miracles, but instead one of a very long and gradual cultivation process that involves perseverance, uncovering and eliminating attachments, and walking my own path.
Back when I obtained the Fa, many of my fellow Western practitioners quickly took up learning Chinese, but I had no interest at all. This changed, however, around 2001, when I traveled to Beijing to validate the Fa on Tiananmen Square. It became clear that speaking Chinese would be a big help in clarifying the truth to mainland Chinese.
Since I was already extremely busy and had no time for formal classes, I decided to learn to read Zhuan Falun in Chinese. How hard could it be since I already knew the English version so well? I started with Lunyu and found it way too difficult. I quickly gave up.
About a year later, I obtained a pinyin version of Zhuan Falun and decided to try again. After learning the basic tones, I found I could learn from it. After another year, around 2004, I could read the Pinyin in group study and some Chinese practitioners even praised me for how good my tones were.
At the same time, I found my English Fa study was getting worse and worse. I would often feel sleepy and my mind could think about that other things at the same time that I was reading! I felt like Fa study was a chore and I had to find ways to drag myself through it. It was obvious that this was wrong, and it was imperative to correct it. On the other hand, when I would read pinyin Chinese, while I didn’t understand a lot, I was completely focused. Therefore, I vowed to stop reading English completely in order to learn to read in Chinese as quickly as possible.
Once I was completely focused on learning Chinese, I figured it wouldn’t take me more than a year to be able to read the Chinese characters fluently. Being a software developer, I had become quite good at self-learning various subjects. How hard could it be? There are only 332 pages in Zhuan Falun, that’s less than one page per day. No problem, right?
I was completely wrong.
Around 2007, I bought a Chinese dictionary/reader application for my hand-held device. This allowed me to learn the Chinese characters, but I could quickly look up the pinyin for correct pronunciation as well as the English translation. While this helped me a lot for my daily Fa study, it was also a crutch since it was too easy to look up characters that I didn’t know, versus memorizing them.
From 2007 to around 2013, my progress was very, very gradual. I read for at least one hour on my hand-held device each day. I never missed a day of study, but still I was somewhat baffled as to why, when I would pick up the Chinese book, I couldn’t get past the first paragraph! I tried different techniques, like flash cards for the characters that I didn’t recognize, but nothing seemed to work.
Around 2014, I finally stopped reading directly from my device. However, reading the book for an hour each day brought about even bigger challenges. At this time, I knew about 75% of the characters. It was really frustrating to only be able to get through a sentence or two and then have to look up a character. At times, my brain felt like it was going to explode, and it was difficult to continue. Plus, my reading rate was still really slow. It would take me up to 6 months to finish all 9 lectures. Was I just wasting my time and perhaps harming my cultivation by not completing the 9 lectures very often? Was I completely hopeless to have taken so long to get this far?
Master must have lent me a hand at this point. In a short period of time, 3 convenient weekly Chinese group study opportunities magically appeared.
Losing Attachments at Group Study and Making Rapid Breakthroughs
Reading Chinese in small groups, where we each read a paragraph, one by one, actually put me through many cultivation tests. I had never done this before. In hind-sight, it was my deeply rooted attachment to fame that was holding me back. I was able to do it with young practitioner Chinese study groups, but not with other fellow practitioners.
I was fortunate to have a group study at lunchtime in my office with 3 other practitioners, one Chinese and two Western. When it was just myself and the Chinese practitioner, I would read Chinese, but only using my hand-held device. He was very patient and would help me struggle through every sentence. This process was very difficult, and I would often start sweating, my mind would lock up, and I wouldn't be able to remember a lot of characters. If the Westerner practitioners joined in, I would switch to English. One day I realized I had to overcome this. I asked the Westerners if it was OK for me to read in Chinese and they agreed. It just so happens that these two Westerners and I have a very long history together, and a lot of it, for me, was rooted in fame, competition, and jealousy. Just before it was my turn to read, my heart started pounding and I got short of breath. Why did I fear this so much? It was my attachments showing themselves in full force. When it was a longer paragraph, I would really feel bad, worried that the other practitioners would think I was harming their Fa Study by being so slow and clumsy. Each time it was my turn to read, I wondered why I was putting myself through this hardship and if it was really worth it.
Because of my show-off mentality, I wanted to prove my self-worth, so I would try to read quickly, but I would make many mistakes. One of the Westerners had studied a fair amount of Chinese and knew the proper tones for many characters. One day when I was reading he began to correct many of my tones. I didn't realize why he was doing this. I thought my Chinese was pretty good at this point and didn't need to worry. After the study session, he shared that many of my tones were incorrect and that, essentially, I wasn't saying the right thing ... and since this is the Fa, it's quite serious. I quickly made some excuses that I was in the process of learning and I would eventually work on improving my tones. But deep inside, I was looking outward and thought he was just jealous that I was now the only Westerner in our group now reading Chinese in group study. Shortly after, it was obvious that this was all caused by my attachments of showing-off, competition, and fame.
There was another daily Chinese group study not far from my office I began to attend. On Mondays it was a larger group where they would read together, and it was easy for me to read along quietly (so nobody would hear my mistakes). However, on the other days it was a small group and they read one by one. I was reluctant at first to join the small group because I was too slow. I decided to try one day but using my mobile device, so I could look up characters quickly. Once again, it was a heart-wrenching experience that must have been arranged to wear down my stubborn attachment to fame. When my turn came to read, my heart would beat fast, I would start sweating, and my voice would start creaking…I could barely get the words out of my mouth.
There was another twist to my cultivation process around this time. In order to increase my Chinese grammar and speaking abilities, so I could communicate better with Chinese tourists, I found a good mobile app course that I would listen to as I walked. However, it was all in simplified Chinese. I had always been learning Traditional characters from the beginning and had a lot of trouble reading simplified. To help correct this, I decided to switch to reading the simplified version of Zhuan Falun. I also figured this would help me to be able to read the materials I gave out to tourists, as well as emails from local practitioners, which are mostly in simplified. This wasn’t an easy decision since I knew simplified characters were created by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). When I first opened the simplified version of Zhuan Falun, I felt sad because so many characters were crippled. But Master made it quite clear that it’s OK to read either version, so I knew it would be fine. I also felt that, since my main motive was to help save mainland Chinese tourists, there shouldn’t be any problem.
From the “Fa Teaching at the 2009 Greater New York International Fa Conference:”
Disciple: When Western practitioners are learning Chinese, should they study the simplified or the traditional characters?
Master: It doesn't matter much whether it's simplified or traditional characters. It's fine to study the simplified, just as it's fine to study the traditional--neither is a problem. I say this because those who study the simplified characters can still read the traditional ones, and vice versa. Human affairs are to be dealt with in the future. What we're concerned with at present is the matter of saving sentient beings. It should be noted, though, that many simplified characters were produced by the wicked CCP, and their connotations aren't good. But with so many people--over a billion--using the simplified ones, this will have to be something that's addressed at a later time.(“Fa Teaching at the 2009 Greater New York International Fa Conference” from Teaching the Fa at the Conference IX)
This past year, I also, for the first time, feel a lot of energy when I study the Fa. No matter how fuzzy my head is, or whatever mood I’m in, once I pick up Zhuan Falun and start reading, I immediately feel clear and uplifted. I don't get sleepy anymore and don't want to stop. I feel the need to sit in the double lotus while studying and I’m happy to study Zhuan Falun at any time.
I now feel energy when I send forth righteous thoughts and do the exercises. The second exercise is particularly powerful. For the first 17 years of cultivation, it was always very painful, but I never felt energy. Now it’s completely different. I feel some pain still, but it then changes into massive surges of electric and magnetic energy that increase just to the point of making me lose consciousness; then there is a release and I have an indescribable feeling of melting into soft golden light. Often my entire body wants to fly, but my feet have locks on them that hold me down. I can feel the link between Fa study and Sending Forth Righteous Thoughts. When I study well, I’m deeply charged with Fa power that is used to eliminate evil. It’s almost as if the characters from Zhuan Falun directly fly out of my body. I see now why Master puts so much emphasis on Fa study.
Reflections on the Process
I have learned over the years that everything that happens in my life is directly related to my cultivation. In my case, Fa study, on a daily basis, became a substantial avenue to put me through tribulations, expose my attachments, and help me understand different Fa principles.
Some practitioners have praised me for being able to read in Chinese, but, in reality, my progress was extremely slow and rather clumsy. I spent roughly 14 years, at least 1 hour per day, that's 4,984 hours, to have finally fulfilled my vow. I often wondered why I was so slow. Why couldn't I remember those characters that I had read over and over so many times? Why is it now that I was finally able to break through? My gut feeling is that it was simply Master’s arrangement for me... to stretch out the process, to keep me on track and learning in the early days, then very excited about study as the end of Fa-rectification approaches.
I feel strongly that it’s the entire process that was most precious over these years. Every day, each little baby step, inching forward, slowly, always having some struggle and always staying focused. If I was able to learn to read Chinese fluently after the first year of trying, would it have counted as cultivation? Would I have this wonderful feeling about Fa study that I do now at this most important time period? Probably not.
When people ask me for tips on how I learned to read in Chinese, I’m not really sure what to say. My current understanding is that it was simply a cultivation arrangement, not some special skills or tricks that I used. I never imagined it would work out the way it did. My advice is to follow your own path, don’t worry too much about results, and to have faith that Master has arranged the best for his disciples.
In cultivation we all have our own paths. On that path, there are often things that won’t make sense or work for anyone else. There are certain risks and “leaps of faith” that you have to take in order to progress. It might seem like they are a waste of time or that they cause more harm than good. I’ve actually experienced this with some other Dafa-related projects I’ve been in where I had to learn some new skills that I never thought I could. During the learning process, I sometimes made mistakes that caused trouble for the project. I just kept on “getting up after each fall,” learned from the mistakes, and eventually became proficient and even excelled at the role. Looking back, I know it was Master and the Fa guiding me each step of the way; often it was in the form of other practitioners magically appearing to help, other times it’s ideas that appear in my head just after Fa study.
Over the years, I have definitely experienced that, as long I have the heart to cultivate, Master will take care of everything else. Just as Master states:
“In cultivation and practice one should be in a state free of intention. As long as you focus on cultivating your xinxing, you will make breakthroughs in your level and certainly get things you deserve.” (“The Issue of Pursuit” from Zhuan Falun)