Updated 8th December 2014
Submitted by Venerable Shih Jingang
Firefighter Monk Venerable Shih Jingang
Imagine, while relaxing at home one day, you happen to look out of a window, and see that your neighbour’s house is on fire. What would you do? Phone for the Fire Brigade, and check that your neighbour is safe, no doubt. But what if they are still in the burning building? Well, this is what I was faced with over twenty years ago. Fortunately, I was able to lead the elderly occupant safely out, and neither of us were seriously injured. But the incident caused me to question my life as a Buddhist practitioner. How best could I cultivate Buddha-like wisdom and compassion, in my old retreat cell, or out in the world serving the community? For a number of years, a retreat cell seemed the right place for me to be, as this was where I felt most at home.
Over time though, I became aware of my attachment to this life, realizing that I needed to find a balance between the interior life, and the world outside if my practice was to progress. But how? This question eventually led me to the writings of the late Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk, who showed me that there were options other than just the monastic,or lay life. I was particularly interested in the Carmelites, former hermit monks who had been forced to flee Palestine in the Middle Ages, ending up in Europe living as mendicant Friars. Serving the lay community wherever needed, and then coming home each evening to a retreat cell, this made sense to me as a westerner living far away from a monastic support network. Inspired, I set about adapting the Carmelite way to a Buddhist context, laying the foundations for a new life.
These days, I live as a Priest of the Nien-Fo Ch’an Buddhist Order, in the town of Penguin, North west Tasmania. I am the Founder/Resident Instructor of the Buddha-Heart Fellowship; and a member of the Australian Sangha Association, and Buddhist Contemplative Care Tasmania; and I am a Chaplain at the THO Burnie Hospital, and for Palliative Care Services. I have also been a Retained Volunteer Firefighter with the Penguin Fire Brigade for the last fourteen years. As one of the few members available in daylight hours during the working week, I have consequently attended hundreds of fire incidents, and motor vehicle crashes over the years; and been away on Campaign Fires with the Tasmania Fire Service during the annual Summer bushfire season.
On the Fireground, I have seen great destruction and natural beauty, death and new life; fear, anger, selfless compassion, and loving-kindness, enriching my life and practice along the way. No matter what the circumstances, in every moment, in every aspect of life there are opportunities to learn.
“Our life is the creation of our mind.”