Sheng Yen was a Chinese-born Chan Buddhist Master and founder of Taiwan’s Institute of Chung-Hwa Buddhist Studies and Dharma Drum Mountain.

The following passage is excerpted from a 1990 talk at Sha Tin Town Hall in Hong Kong. While there, Sheng Yen spoke on achieving the ideal state of a human being through practice, and how far from that most of us are.

What are the states of body and mind of today’s people? First of all, there is stress on the body and mind. Our sense of time is too short, our sense of space is too small, and our interaction among people is too frequent. All of these things make the connections among us more distant. Normally, the more we are in touch with others, the better the relationship we have with them, but in reality it is just the opposite. Why is that?

In the past people lived in a simpler environment, so their relationships were more about care and concern for each other. Today, people have more contact with others and live overly hectic lives, so they end up not knowing whom to care for; therefore, they stop caring for others.

What are people nowadays concerned about the most? About themselves! How do they show their concern for themselves? By being defensive, guarding against any harm or loss that may be brought about by the people they encounter. When they’re not doing this, they themselves contrive to reap gains and benefit from others. In this way, we live in stress. We approach the people we meet as thieves and enemies. We frighten ourselves, which adds only more stress.

A couple and their child came to the Chan Meditation Center in New York. Having not seen them for a long time, I asked them how they were doing. The husband said, “Shifu, let’s not talk about it—life is not easy, being human! For months we have been living a tense, hectic life. So today we are here to seek some peace and quiet.” I thought they were probably going to stay for a while—meditate or do Buddha-name recitation or something. Instead, I saw the man and his family burn some incense and prostrate to the Buddha, and then they were ready to leave. So I stopped them and said, “Wait a minute! Aren’t you here to find some peace of mind? Why are you so tense? You came here hoping to relax and enjoy some peace of mind. Yet you are still so tense. Now you are here, you are supposed to find peace of mind. You should calm your mind.”

Aren’t there lots of such examples like this?

Related: The Enemy Within 

Reprinted with permission from Chan and Enlightenment, © 2014 Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation, Taipei, Taiwan.