-An extract from Venerable Pomnyun’s book, Life Lessons–
P: People say that when we perform many good deeds, we will either be blessed with good fortune or be born into a better world in the next life. However, regardless of how many good deeds we have done, the outcome will differ depending on our mental attitude.
Generally, people want to be appreciated and praised for their good deeds. But, such an attitude is likely to leave them disappointed and betrayed when their good deeds are not rewarded or appreciated.
In a family, there are many instances in which mothers, who raised their children with unconditional love, are saddened when their grown-up children fail to appreciate their hard work. They may become depressed and think to themselves, “It’s useless to raise children.”
Also, there are many instances in which people who devoted their time and energy to volunteer work become miserable because they feel they are not receiving the recognition they deserve. We sometimes encounter people, working for the welfare of others by volunteering their time, giving alms, and working in civic groups, who are unhappy. This is because they are kind of disappointed that, although they devoted themselves to benefit others, the world does not appreciate their efforts.
What these people need to do is to let go of the thought that they are doing good deeds while doing them. In The Diamond Sutra, there is a passage that goes “Bodhisattvas liberate all unenlightened beings from suffering, yet they don’t have the notion of doing so.” This means that if bodhisattvas have the notion that they are liberating unenlightened beings from suffering, they themselves will fall into suffering, and those who do so cannot be regarded as bodhisattvas.
Bodhisattvas can justly be born in Heaven in consideration of the number of good deeds they have done, but they have made an aspiration rather enter Hell in order to help to suffer unenlightened beings. Bodhisattvas take control of their own lives, while unenlightened beings are controlled by their karma.
Why are unenlightened beings controlled by their karma? Unenlightened beings expect to receive without giving and want to be understood without understanding others. Thus, they live as slaves rather than as masters of their own lives because they are always bound to others. However, bodhisattvas help others without expecting anything in return, so it doesn’t matter whether their deeds are appreciated or not. Bodhisattvas are free of external conditions, and therefore, they are the masters of their own lives.
Among Korean classics, there is a story of two brothers, “Heungbu and Nolbu.” Each of them fixed the broken leg of a swallow, but the outcomes were completely different. Heungbu fixed a swallow’s legs simply because he felt sorry for the bird. He did not expect anything for his good deed, but he was rewarded with a fortune. Nolbu, on the other hand, broke a bird’s leg on purpose and fixed it with the aim of getting a fortune, but he was hit with misfortune instead. This is to say, when you don’t expect anything, you will be happy whether you get a reward or not. If you expect a reward, however, the seeds of disappointment and resentment will be sown in your heart
It is not easy for us to have the heart of a bodhisattva who does not expect any rewards. However, we must constantly practice introspection to see whether we expect or desire anything in return for our good deeds. If our introspection reveals that we do, we must let go of our expectations, so that we can be happy simply with the act of giving. This is giving alms in its true sense. Thus, both the giver and the receiver will become free, and giving alms will beget genuine good fortune.