It is said that the followers of the Buddha can be divided into two groups of people: ordained monks and lay people, or lay-Buddhists. The teachings of the Buddha appear to be divided according to the followers they are addressed to and divide into these two groups. The two sets of followers have different roles. The ordained monks learn and practice the Buddha’s teachings dedicatedly and help others understand the teachings. Lay-Buddhists have families and work to support their families and take responsibility for their life by applying the teachings of the Buddha. In reality, the Dhamma of the Buddha is for all. It is not divided at all. Ordained monks, or lay-Buddhists are merely words. They are just the practitioners of the Buddhist teachings. In the Zen tradition, its followers are divided into three: decorator, Master’s servant and learner, or practitioner. There is a Zen story, which illustrates these three roles well. Here is the story:
There was a woman who, every day, brought flowers to decorate the alter at the temple. One day while she was decorating the alter, she met a certain Zen Master. The Zen Master said to her, "You bring flowers and decorate the alter every day. It is said that because of this your life will be very wonderful and beautiful." She said to the Master, "Master, when I am decorating the alter, I’m so peaceful and happy. But when I am at home, I have unrest, worry and anxiety. What can I do to be peaceful and happy?" The Master replied, "To be peaceful and happy is like how you decorate the alter." The woman asked the Master to explain this more. The Master explained, "You are like the alter. Peace and happiness are comparable to the flowers with which you decorate your life. So you have to keep them fresh. Do you know how to keep the flowers fresh?" She answered, "Yes, sir. That is easy. To keep the flowers fresh, I just cut off the bad stems because they cannot suck clean water, and I put them in clean water, which keeps the flowers fresh." The Master said, "That is right. You can use in your life the same method you use to keep flowers fresh. Let go of bad thoughts and cultivate good thoughts instead and then you have a purified mind, which is without unrest, worry, and anxiety and so on."
The woman thanked the Master and said, "Thank you very much for your advice and allowing me to come to the temple to learn Dhamma, practice meditation and to listen to chanting". The Master said, "You are welcome. That is good for you", and added, "You should see your body as a temple, Dhamma as a way of life, meditation as being like your breath leading to peace and happiness and chanting as the sound of mindfulness." She again thanked the Master for more advice and more than that she put the Master’s advice into practice in her life. As a result, her life became peaceful and happy just like the fresh flowers which decorated the alter so beautifully.
This story prompts us to look at what kind of follower of Buddhism we are. Are we a decorator, the servant of a Master, or a learner and practitioner? What type of follower we are does not really matter if we can only realize who we are, apply what we have learned in life and make use of what we have understood in life. We should remember the advice of the Master to the woman: "You should see your body as a temple, Dhamma as a way of life, meditation as being like your breath leading to peace and happiness and chanting as the sound of mindfulness."
If we can apply this advice in our life, whoever we are, or everywhere can be a place of peace and happiness for us. That is good advice, isn’t it?