Seize the Present Moment and Sustain It Forever


Context for the Teaching: Master Cheng Yen recalled how she seized the moment when she took refuge with Master Yin Shun at the Light of Wisdom Dharma Hall. From that moment onward, she has put her aspiration into practice. Since then, whenever she has faced arduous tasks in this world, she recalls the six words her teacher gave her: “For Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.”

Context: Master Cheng Yen recalled the instructions Master Yin Shun gave her upon taking refuge in 1963.

Time, space, and interpersonal relationships are all a matter of causes and conditions. As I stood behind the lecture hall, speaking with Master Hui Yin about the idea of taking refuge, Master Yin Shun walked out of the reception room in front of the hall.

When Master Hui Yin went to him to relay my request to take refuge, Master Yin Shun looked at me, smiled and nodded. Master Hui Yin waved me over, so I quickly complied. Master Yin Shun said, “We are running out of time. We can just do the ceremony right here!”

It was almost noon and the ordination hall was about to close. I immediately went forward to offer incense and pay respect to the Buddha, then prostrated to Master Yin Shun. He simply said, “Our karmic affinity is extraordinary. Since you wish to become a monastic, you must vow to work ‘for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.’ I will give you a Dharma name; hurry before it is too late!” Master Yin Shun immediately gave me the Dharma name “Cheng Yen,” and the courtesy name “Hui Zhang.” Since I was running late, Master Yin Shun wrote a letter for me to bring to the ordination hall to register.

There were many serendipitous causes and conditions that connected my master and I.

I was able to take refuge with my master at the Light of Wisdom Dharma Hall because of the passing rain shower and a sudden thought. Coincidentally, my master slowly walked out of the meeting room at that moment. The combination of the right person, right time, and right place created these wondrous causes and conditions. I often say we must “sustain the moment forever”; what we must sustain is the aspiration we form in that moment. I also say that we must “seize the moment,” which is the time when we formed that aspiration.

The moment when we form such an aspiration is very important! I was there to purchase “The Complete Works of Venerable Taixu” and planned to head back to Hualien right after. Yet, it just so happened to rain at that very moment. As a result of the rain, a single thought arose in my mind—I wanted to take refuge with Master Yin Shun.

The succinct advice that my Master gave me in the span of a second influenced me for a lifetime.

One second can determine the course of a lifetime. When we seize the present moment to form aspirations, then in that present moment we are on the right path. When we practice sincerity, integrity, faith, and steadfastness, we can sustain our aspiration forever.

From that point on, as I have continued on this path, no matter how difficult the obstacles I meet are, the six words, “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings,” always appear in my mind.

Now, it has been over forty years since the Tzu Chi Merit Association has been established.

In doing good deeds, we must seize the moment. I often say that we should not think about living year by year; instead, let us live second by second.

Let us not measure our lives in years, but in seconds. The Buddha-Dharma teaches us that life is impermanent. In doing good deeds and engaging in spiritual cultivation, whether we are cultivating blessings or wisdom, we must not procrastinate.
We must not think, “I am only in my fifties. I will wait a few years when I retire at sixty to do good deeds.”

“At this moment, my children have not married yet. I will wait until they are all married and I have no more responsibilities before doing good deeds and engaging in spiritual practice.” We cannot make plans this way, as we have no control over to the length of our lives. Time is beyond our control; time is controlled by karma.

Whether we are young or old, another year has passed for all of us. We should make an effort to seize the time we have. When the opportunity presents itself, we must quickly do what is morally right. When there are good deeds to be done, we must immediately put our lives to good use.

The Buddha teaches us to constantly maintain the mindset of renouncing indulgence.

Being indulgent means not cherishing our time, wasting it on debauchery, or allowing it to pass in vain. Doing these things means that we do not cherish our capabilities in life.

To someone with wisdom, time is as precious as a diamond.
To someone without wisdom, time can be wasted as easily as releasing of a handful of dirt.

Some people say, “I need to be financially secure before I am able to do good deeds.”

This is not necessarily true. The ability to do good deeds also depends on the right causes and conditions.

When we wait for ourselves to save up enough money, the opportunity to do good deeds might be gone. By then, even if we wish to contribute, the opportunity might have already passed.

We must put effort into seizing our time and eliminating discursive thoughts as it passes. Holding on to past grudges leads to a discursive mindset filled with afflictions. Fantasizing about the future leads to delusion.

Instead, let us seize the present moment to say the right words and do the right things.

What is happening in this instant becomes the “past” in a single second. We must not dwell on the past, otherwise, we will give rise to discursive thoughts.

We must try our best to practice being Living Bodhisattvas.
To forgive others is to beautify ourselves. To reject others is to vilify ourselves. The key to spiritual cultivation is eradicating false thoughts and eliminating discursive thoughts. To do so means we are not attached to the future, nor do we hold onto the past. Instead, we earnestly seize the present.

All material things in the universe undergo the four states of formation, existence, decay, and disappearance.

The human body undergoes the four states of birth, aging, illness, and death.

Our state of mind undergoes the four states of arising, abiding, changing, and ceasing.

All matters in the world are in a state of constant alteration and change. To seize the moment and live in the present is what is most important.

All things in the world are constantly changing as each new year replaces the last. So, we must seize the present moment, make good use of time, progress academically, develop our wisdom, and attain virtues and merits. Then, heroes, even saint-like heroes, may be able to emerge from this era. The history of Tzu Chi is enriched by the contributions of the Tzu Ching collegiate volunteers.

We are all the keepers of history. I hope that we can work together to bring purity to people’s minds with the pure stream of Tzu Chi so that we can soon achieve our dream of creating a pure land on Earth.

According to the Buddha Dharma, we need to understand the karmic law of cause and effect, planting causes and cultivating conditions accordingly. Only good causes and conditions can yield good effects and retributions.

As Buddhist practitioners, we must first plant good causes and form good affinities so that we may obtain good effects and retributions.

The most important thing in life is to seize the present moment. This means making use of the present instead of letting time pass by in vain. Even if we do not make use of it, time will still pass us by. If we do not seize the present moment, which moment should we be seizing?

In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha says, “Bodhisattvas can expand one moment into one kalpa. They can also reduce one kalpa into a single day.” We might find this baffling; how does one expand one moment into one kalpa, or shorten the time of an entire kalpa into one day? What does this mean?

I often say that we must seize the moment, and especially the present.

Being able to seize every moment is how we can sustain them. Therefore, we need to seize the moment and sustain it forever!

The celebration of Tzu Chi’s thirtieth anniversary is possible due to the single moment thirty years earlier when I saw a pool of blood on the ground. Can you believe it? It was all because, back then, I seized the thought that arose at that moment and sustained it. Every day, I sustain my thoughts that arise in every moment.

The world of Tzu Chi is built from that sudden thought; let us earnestly carry on this work. As long as our mindset remains unwavering, we can extend an instant into countless kalpas. Then, we can also shorten countless kalpas into one day.

Let us try our best to safeguard our minds. If we know how to remain in the tranquil state of Samadhi, that is how we can fulfill our spiritual cultivation. It is up to us to make use of the good environment we have created. I ask Tzu Chi volunteers around the world to seize the moment and sustain it forever.

This statement may seem ordinary, but it is how I perceive time and the direction of my life. I hope everyone can have self-respect, fulfill their respective duties, look after one another, cherish one another, and be mindful in everything we do!

An attendee asked, “What will become of us disciples when Master is no longer with us?”

Master Cheng Yen responded, “The Buddha said that the mind, the Buddha, and sentient beings are no different in their nature. The Buddha was a human being. If we remain unwavering in our resolve, then nothing is truly difficult. Our volunteers vow to seize the moment and sustain it forever, and sustaining that moment forever is the most important part. When I formed my aspiration, I seized that moment firmly and sustained it until this day. This is what I mean by sustaining the moment forever.”

“Ordinary beings’ minds shift easily. They form many aspirations, but their mindsets and thoughts change easily. In truth, spiritual cultivation is all about forming aspirations until one attains buddhahood. It is not hard to attain buddhahood as long as one can persevere in one’s aspirations. The Buddha, the mind, and sentient beings are equal. However, they differ in the ability to maintain that sudden thought.”

“What will happen when I am gone? Do not worry. Look at Tzu Chi volunteers; they are more proactive in their dedication than I am. They give without expectations and are even more sincere. When the Buddha was alive, people asked the same question. ‘What do we do when the Buddha passes away?’ Now, 2,000 years later, aren’t there still many Buddhist practitioners and many people forming aspirations and vows?”

“All in all, as long as I am still alive, I will never rest. I will spend my remaining time to encourage everyone to keep doing good deeds. As you carry on, do not worry about what will happen when I am gone, or about not moving forward or knowing what to do in the future.

I cannot remain at the same place because I am moving forward constantly. I will never stop and walk in place. Although the universe has its bounds, our vows are boundless. I am not afraid of shouldering more responsibilities; I only ask for more strength.
I hope everyone here will lend me their added strength.”

I cannot plan my own lifespan; I cannot be sure of how much time I have left. It could be years, or it could be today or tomorrow. However, I do believe in seizing the moment and sustaining it forever. We must take hold of every opportunity we have.

To seizing the present moment is to cultivate blessings. After we are inspired, we must dedicate ourselves through action.

However, as we carry out the work, we will inevitably come into conflict with others. Not everything will go according to our wishes. Therefore, it is easy to retreat from our will to practice.
Although we cultivate blessings by benefiting the world, if we lack wisdom, it will be difficult to avert hardship and overcome obstacles. Then, we will not be able to accomplish anything.

Aside from cultivating blessings, we must also cultivate wisdom. Sustaining the moment forever is cultivating wisdom.
When we encounter obstacles, we must sustain the moment when we first formed our aspiration. When we remain unwavering, this is what it means to sustain the moment forever.

“If you maintain your initial aspiration, you will surely attain buddhahood.” If we can sustain that original thought forever, we will be able to attain buddhahood.

Doctors can achieve what normal people cannot by applying wondrous skills, wondrous techniques, and wondrous treatments to the wondrous lives of humans.

What is the purpose of studying medicine? The purpose is to save lives; this is a very good starting point. All doctors start out wanting to help people.

While forming aspirations is easy, persevering in them is hard. It is difficult to maintain the original intent and aspiration. Therefore, I often say that we must seize the present moment. We determined the direction of our path the moment we formed aspirations and made vows. We need to walk steadily with our original intent in mind.

While forming aspirations is easy, persevering in them is hard.

I often say we should seize the present moment and sustain it forever. From the moment we form aspirations, we need to sustain that moment forever.

When we can sustain that original good thought and good intent, that is when we can truly bring forth our innate wondrous existence.

Seize the Present Moment and Sustain It Forever
The True Meaning of Filial Piety – The First Lesson to a Joyful Life (Published 2014)
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Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering
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Wisdom at Dawn
January 30, 1992
Teaching Tzu Chi Commissioners in Pingtung
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Teaching at Taichung Branch Office
December 17, 1993
Northern Region Tzu Chi Collegiate Association Gathering
April 18, 1996
Taichung Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering
May 8, 1996
Global Tzu Chi Volunteers Spiritual Training Workshop
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Wisdom at Dawn
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Conversation with Northern Region Honorary Board Members at the Jing Si Lifestyle Camp
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The Twenty-Second Northern Region Honorary Board Members Jing Si Lifestyle Camp
April 9, 2000
Tainan Training Retreat for Tzu Chi Commissioners and Faith Corps Members
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Morning Volunteer Assembly