When I was guiding teacher of the 500 year-old Zen Hall at Hwa Gye Sah Temple outside Seoul, naturally there would be a stream of people coming to ask questions about practice. Quite often, good Buddhist mothers would arrange appointments to ask how best to make sure their children would grow up to believe in Buddhism. This was not a useless question, as in Korea there can be extraordinary pressure from the evangelical Christian communities to give up their family’s Buddhist traditions and live Christian. (Even promotion in employment and availability of marriageable mates is often strongly tied to whether one is Christian or not. This is especially true in the Korean military.)
The mothers would ask, “Which book do you recommend they read to believe in Buddhism more strongly?” “Can you talk to my child to show them why Western people are practicing Buddhism?” “Can you recommend a video for them to watch?” Their desperation was quite real, because they were well aware of the pressures that the kids would face out in the world trying to succeed in a very competitive society in which even the slightest perceived nano-deficiency could become a hindrance to the realisation of their dreams. And they were not doing it only for such understandably selfish concerns: The Buddhists who love their tradition are very passionate that it not be allowed to disappear in the face of contemporary pressures and consumerist absorptions.
And my answer to all the mothers was nearly always the same: “How much do you practice every day?” “How much do you manifest the power of this practice through constant effort?” “Do you come to the temple only on holidays or at festivals? Do you use the temple visit as a social meeting, or are you really practicing hard and not letting yourself get pulled into the gossiping and chatting that happens in temples and churches when people do not come for the real work that is available there?” “How much do you radiate the light of Dharma practice that can be seen and appreciated by your children when they see you managing the inevitable trials and sufferings of life? HOW MUCH DO YOU PRACTICE? Only this will make the impression that you wish to be made.”
“Oh, but Sunim,” some would say. “If you could spare some time to give them a private talk about Buddhism, they might be convinced…” Things like that. And I would answer, “Me? I’ll just be some curious happening for them. And what will be the impact on them of even the speech of the Golden Buddha if they see some inconsistency between what you believe and wish for them through Buddhism, and some tightness or narrow-mindedness and you constantly being pulled by other peoples’ values and points of view?”
Often I would use this example: “When a car drives forcefully down the street, the scattered leaves will be pulled into the momentum and moved to another location, whether they like it or not. The same with your kids and friends and spouses and this whole world: If your consciousness makes some movement in practice, through consistent application, then all those minds linked to yours through karmic affiliations both heavy and strong — those ‘minds’ will move in that direction, too. And even if your kids don’t jump in and practice immediately, following your example, don’t worry: just keep practicing. Then, one day, when they receive suffering and begin to question the nature of their mind, of reality, they will have some intuition about a proven way to gain stability in it, having experienced the force of Dharma in your own life.”
So, this quote, above, though its point is true, could be refined in this way: “The most precious gift that you could ever give to somebody is the Dharma. The most effective way to give that gift is to practice it yourself.“