Yuan • Motivation from the Heart

Text and photos by Chang Zhuqing (Former Cultural Programme Officer of PCD)

Editor’s Notes

  Chang Zhuqing, a former staff member of PCD, has always been very enthusiastic in practicing sustainable living. He used to produce enzymes at home from garbage. However, sometimes he feels he is losing strength for the journey in pursuit of his ideals. Just before he resigned from PCD early this year, he met an elderly Buddhist woman in Guizhou who was even more passionate than him in practicing sustainable living. As a way of doing good, she makes a large quantity of enzyme at home and gives it free to neighbouring shops. Chang, who is also influenced by Buddhist teachings, was tremendously touched by the zeal of the old lady. The encounter and acquaintanceship with this old lady has re-energised him on his road to build a sustainable life for all.

The old lady’s home is filled with bottles of eco-enzyme she makes

 Starting With Yuan…

Buddhism teaches yuan fen. [Yuan is a Chinese word that is originally a Buddhist term meaning cause and conditions. Yuan fen means a relationship that can be attributed to former actions, or destiny.—trans.] One forms ties with certain persons according to one's aspirations. When one wishes to do good, one is laying the ground work to build ties with people of good will who can sometimes help and guide one in one's life. Even when you meet a bad person because of a bad thought, that person is there to remind you. A good intention and good yuan will bear good fruit. This is the law of cause and effect. That is why Buddhists call those whom you meet and have come to help you Buddha or bodhisattva.

In Guiyang (the provincial capital of Guizhou), there was a group of people who had been discussing what they could do in response to the city's rapid changes, the deterioration of the environment, the pollution of rivers, the garbage accumulation and the problem of food safety. Some of us were born and grew up in Guiyang while others had come from all over the country. For three days we met to discuss what we could do in the hope that, as people of thoughts and ideas, we could do something to bring about improvements for sustainable living in Guiyang.

We discussed the problem of garbage and visited Huaxi River to see how it had changed. We reflected on the reasons for its change and shared each other’s feelings and thoughts openly. Some also spoke about their practice in everyday life. Even though we were all very enthusiastic, we had different professions and different life experiences. Sometimes we were lost in discussions or caught in debates, other times we felt powerless, confused about the history and background of these problems. Even though all of us had the good will to improve things, we were confused and baffled by the dust and the fog of the world. In other words, good will has its own problems.

The Yuan of Enzymes

As everyone was feeling lost, one afternoon during a session on experiencing nature, I strolled to the other side of the river where there were barbecue stalls. I wanted to take a few pictures of the garbage around the barbecue stalls to show them to the others. I saw a lady over 60 years old carrying a bag of plastic bottles. She was talking with someone in a small shop. I was probably overwhelmed by my inner confusion of the past few days, and became interested in her. I wanted to take a few pictures of her. In the vast sea of people, at least there was someone else who cared about the environment and was trying to do something of her own accord! I moved forward to listen to what she was saying. It never occurred to me that I would hear the word “enzyme”—a key word that instantly aroused my deep interest. I forgot about the time that I was supposed to meet with my friends again. I only wanted to find out more about the old lady. I had been promoting eco-enzymes for over two years and had been telling people about them all the time. Because of this, I was given the title of “Brother Enzyme” and was 'professionally' sensitive to this word.

When I listened more carefully to what the old lady (who prefers to remain anonymous) was saying, I realised she was actually explaining the advantage of enzymes to the shopkeeper. She was telling the shopkeeper to save plastic bottles and garbage to make enzymes which were not only good for oneself, but also good for one’s family and society. However the shopkeeper looked doubtful.

When I had a chance to join in the conversation, I told the old lady that I was a user, producer and promoter of enzymes. She became very excited and repeatedly invoked the name of Amitabha Buddha. She thanked the Buddha and the bodhisattva for her to have met a fellow-traveller. She then started to talk about her story. She said she was a Buddhist follower. As a Buddhist, she felt she had to do something for the earth which was being destroyed. She wanted to influence other people with her own actions. Ziranguang, a vegetarian restaurant in Guiyang, told her about a talk by Dr Wen Xiuzhi on enzymes. After she attended the talk, the old lady started to promote the use of eco-enzymes in her neighbourhood. Now she had met me, a young person who also knew about the advantages of eco-enzymes, she felt that her actions were finally being recognised.

I also felt happy and satisfied to meet another person who was keen about eco-enzymes. To tell the truth, during the two years that I had been promoting eco-enzymes at work and during my free time, many people I talked to were sceptical while over half of them were doubtful. Virtually no one actually did it or shared their experience of making enzymes. So meeting the old lady was also a kind of encouragement and acknowledgement for me. It was especially so because the face of the old lady glowed with health and she was very energetic. For me, doing good was also my inner motivation. Feeling excited, I invited the old lady to our meeting on sustainable living to share about her life and experience. She promptly agreed.

Inner Motivation

The old lady arrived at the appointed time and joined us for dinner. She ate only a little of the vegetables and rice. After the meal, she noticed that some vegetables and soup were left and some rice had been dropped on the table, but she did not criticise us, the young people. She simply said zuiguo [a Chinese term often used by Buddhists which means misconduct or fault.—trans.] and went on to tell us her story of food. She said that there was never enough food to fill the stomach when she was small.  Labouring in the field was hard and her parents and older people always taught her to cherish food. She was converted to Buddhism when she grew older. She learnt that wasting food was a fault because it was equivalent to killing. Since then she had taken to eating food left by others, and to her surprise her health had become better. When she finished her story, she turned to the restaurant waiters and asked if she could take away the left-over food so that she could eat it the next day. As young people who were proud of our passion and dedication to saving the earth, we were ashamed by what the old lady said. We immediately finished eating all the food left on the table. The old lady had encouraged and motivated us by awakening our inner selves and by pointing out the barrier between our thoughts and our actions.

In the following one and a half days, the old lady was with us most of the time. She took part in discussions in the classroom and spoke too. She invited us to her home and to visit her studio where she made enzymes. She was always recollecting the past and reflecting on the present. She awakened and enlightened us by revealing the meaning of profound theories. We felt a strong motivation inside of us.

The visit to the old lady's home and enzyme-making studio left us with the deepest impression. We were astounded by the large number of bottles that she had collected. They filled up a few rooms! We were also astounded by the staunchness of her belief and how she acted out her awakening. She was 67 years old, but she had been picking up garbage and helping vendors to clean up their places so that she could have more plastic bottles. She visited bars and nightclubs to ask for fresh, thrown away fruits. She sold unused plastic bottles for money to buy brown sugar to make hundreds of catties of enzymes which she gave to her neighbours and shops for free. Because of her persistence, the local shops and bars now take the initiative to sort out their own garbage and give it to the old lady.

In the parlour where she worshipped Buddha, the old lady had placed a few bottles of enzymes that she most cherished. She said they were made from the water that she had put in front of Buddha as an offering. She said that the enzyme made from this water was the best because it had the blessing of Buddha and bore her good will. In the bottles, we could see thick white layers of the enzymes. They were indeed better than all the enzymes that I had made: fragrant, white, and emitting the purity and vitality of lotus flowers. As we stood in the quiet parlour filled with admiration and piety, I thought that the enzymes made by the old lady were better than those I made because of the good intentions of the old lady. I thought about the enzymes that I had made in the office. I had to admit that they had been a failure because I had been busy with work and had not paid much attention to them. Over the past few years, I had often found myself not being able to do as much as I had wanted. This could also be due to the fact that I lacked the concentration and my mind was weak.

The Bodhisattva of Enzymes

Our encounter with the old lady revealed to us our blind spots as young people obsessed with actions. We felt a strong motivation inside us. We realised that we had to gain our inner motivation from traditions and from our own experience. We felt confident and blessed as we reflected on how we might continue on our road.

At the activity summarising session, we all felt that the old lady was sent by Buddha to guide us when we were lost. She was like a bodhisattva who showed up momentarily to motivate us again. After spending two days with us, she was gone. We thought that maybe she showed up because we had made up our mind to do good by improving the environment and to live a life of sustainability. Except for yuan fen, it was difficult to explain what had happened, especially in terms of science and rationality. But it had happened nevertheless.

It made us reflect on how NGOs depend too much on external support when we make our own learning and exploration. Every time we conduct a training workshop, we have to invite a renowned teacher from overseas to inspire and motivate us. However when we are back at our work or our post, we often feel helpless and find it difficult to even move a single step. We wondered if it was possible to find local people such as the old lady who could inspire us, reveal to us our blind spots and invigorate us. Perhaps this is what needs to be done on our road to a sustainable life.

The encounter with the old lady has also inspired me to look for people around me who are capable of building the inner motivation of others. Such searching includes my own inner motivation. I have to find the source and the spring of my inner motivation with which I can help inspire and invigorate others. We need to make our own independent exploration so that we may go on hand in hand. Perhaps that is the road this generation of NGO practitioners should take in addressing our difficulties. 

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The old lady introducing eco-enzymes to a shop owner.
The old lady cleaning the plastic bottles she collected which she then fills with eco-enzyme solution to give to people in need.
The old lady’s home is filled with bottles of eco-enzyme she makes herself.
The fruits and food waste that the old lady used to make enzyme come from KTVs and restaurants.
The old lady introducing the eco-enzyme she made herself.
The old lady sharing her experience at the Guiyang Exchange on Sustainable Living.