Recently, I had the chance to attend the North American White Elephant Staff Training Workshop in New York. It was a red eye flight from San Francisco, arriving Saturday morning and returning Sunday night. I know, it's crazy. For multiple occasions, I questioned whether I should attend. I felt obligated as the President of SFYAD that I have to go. "If I don't, how am I supposed to encourage my members to be white elephant?", I thought to myself. At the end of the workshop, I'm extremely glad to have attended it.
We discussed the challenges of YAD in expanding and retaining members across North America. Turns out, every YAD around North America is facing the same issues: how can we keep the torch going? My favorite part was when everyone shared their own stories about HOW they started and WHY they stayed. Everyone was different, but there were a few common themes: they feel a sense of belonging to this extended family, they find value in what they are learning, and they get a sense of mission to continue this legacy.
Someone shared "These amazing teachings are passed down from over 2600 years ago. And now it's in our hands. Just imagine, if everyone thought someone else will pass it down, then who will actually do it in the end?" Another fellow YAD shared "I felt a connection to this community when I started, and I want to see this continue to grow."
It made me reflect on my own journey. From the day when I stepped into San Bao Temple, the first project that I volunteered for, and to the very day that I asked the key question. On that fateful day, feeling tremendously grateful to all the help I got from everyone at the temple, I kneed before Buddha and asked "What can I do for you?" In that instant, I recalled upon a conversation I had with my professor from my Masters Program. He's also helped me in many ways which I feel eternally grateful for, and I'd asked him the exact same question before. His answer: "Pay it forward. Help others when you are capable." And that's been my motivation.
Ironically, the more I volunteered, the more I gained. I've learned more about Buddhism and found its teachings extremely practical and helpful to my life. These valuable teachings foster a community that strives to practice what they learn and spreads the Dharma (Buddhist Teachings) for a more peaceful society. This is a community where I find purpose, peace, belongingness and support. I've gained so much; volunteering back to this community and sharing what I've learned are my ways of paying it forward.
But it's not always rosy; there were ups and downs. I got tired, stressed out, and questioned about the busyness of life. Everyday is a mindlessly busy day, living by one obligation to another obligation. I almost lost track of my mission till I attended the training workshop. Venerable Master Hsing Yun said "Never forget why you started". When life gets tough and we struggle, the will to continue may fade. And that's why we should always look back at WHY we started in the first place.
Once you know your original intent, you realize that the format at which things happen isn’t as important anymore. If your goal is to get from a city to another city, it doesn't matter if you have to take 3 buses, a flight, or even detour to another city, as long as you don't forget your destination. Depending on the conditions, you just keep doing your best to move towards your goal. Your reason to start this journey becomes an infinite fuel of strength and courage to face any challenges.
So, why did you start your journey?