Save this world with a compassionate heart
---Closing Remarks by the Most Venerable Master Sheng Yen at Young Leaders Peacebuilding Retreat, Pine Bush, NY, October 28, 2006
In these few days, here in the quiet and serene environment, you have all been very attentive during the conference. In particular with the guidance and help of our honoured guests such as Ms Dena Merriam, you have all opened your hearts and generously shared the stories of your lives.
Indeed! There are people who have never suffered in their entire life or experienced hardship. A great person does not necessarily have to have experienced suffering. However for someone who never had such an experience, with no idea of what suffering is all about, it would be difficult for him to understand, sympathize and assist others.
I believe that most of you have had easy lives; growing up and have not suffered much. Yet I have to say that if we were to help this world of suffering people, we need to first have had experienced suffering, otherwise we would have no understanding of what suffering is.
We will have no empathy for others and it would not be easy for us to generate compassion. Since the world you know is beautiful and life is comfortable, it must be so for others, hence no one in this world really needs help!
The world population at present is 6.5 billion. Over half of them are suffering in poverty, the other half are materially well off but spiritually impoverished. To me, these 6.5 billion people are all suffering. Most people would consider the lack of food, clothing and housing to be suffering. Yet I have met many rich people, they have everything but they lack happiness, they lack security.
Here I can see that you young people are healthy and full of vitality, and you all look happy, why is it that in the past two days you have shared so many unhappy experiences? You have shared your pains, your loss, the turmoil in life and growing up; you have touched everyone present here. Don't you think it strange? Every one of you have food, clothing and a home to return, so why is it that you also have so much suffering?
This is the reality of life! Each of us regardless of where we are, face many unhappy events and pain. As I have mentioned in the opening ceremony, the main issue of world poverty is not so much about material poverty, but spiritual poverty. Although relief for material poverty is important and cannot be easily solved, it can still be alleviated. Mental and spiritual poverty are the more discerning tasks. Until the day we solve the problem of spiritual poverty, this world will always be in poverty.
Living in this center in the last three days, the most difficult thing for you is probably adjusting to vegetarian meals. The majority of you are not vegetarian, it may even be the first time that you have had vegetarian meals, there is no fish or meat, it must be very hard for you, yet you have survived! For you having vegetarian meals is probably a form of suffering, if you think so, please think of those who can't even have a vegetarian meal! Our volunteer head chef has put in a lot of effort to provide us with healthy, nutritious and splendid food, so we should be grateful that we can have vegetarian meals at all.
Whatever the circumstance, when you feel that you are suffering, remind yourself of this: "In this world there are many more people and situations that are worst than mine, so this is nothing." If you think along this way you will not blame others and more often, you will only think of the multitude of people who suffer and need our help.
In this place you have either shared your own story or that of others. In terms of your life experience, what you have gained in the last two to three days is probably much more that what you would have gained in two years. I am very happy for you. Never lose hope for this world. Of the 6.5 billion people, more than half thinks in an inverted way. In fact the number of people who can change, bring light, hope and future to the world are a few leaders only. At any given period, it was always a few excellent leaders who saved humanity during their times. Human history is always like this.
Today we have over 70 youth leaders here in Pine Bush, you have come from different countries, please everyone of you, make a vow, make a vow to save this world. How to save the world? With compassion, with peaceful but not violent means, by promoting world peace through inner peace within yourself. It is only then that we will not experience poverty within us. Furthermore we can save the world from poverty. This is something that you can all do.
Please make a vow, the hope of the 21st century relies on you. Do not under estimate yourself and think that how the 70 of us, such a small group can make a difference to the 6 billion people in the world! So long as we are not in spiritual poverty, we are calm and at peace ourselves, then we can influence the people around us and ultimately be closer to the goal of world peace.
Last but not least, I would like to thank Ms Dena Merriam, Pujya Swamiji tananda Saraswati, Mr. Narinder Kakarand and Ven. Mae-Chee Sansanee for bringing you all here to this international retreat center which has now become an international conference center as well. This is the first time that we hold an international event here. It is indeed our honour and priviledge to do so.
Thank you to all of you, I hope that we'll be able to meet again in future and you're always welcome to come back again. Blessings to you all!
(Translated by Agnes Chow)