Reflections on time in the Philippines

I recently spent a few months in the Philippines. It was my happiness to return there again after spending some time there last year. In this short column I want to write down a few of the experiences I had.

One thing I noticed is that the people there work hard. Even in the menial jobs, they are focused and do their work with a look of happiness. I often wondered how they can be so diligent doing a basic service job. I have not seen such diligence in other countries for the same job. It’s impressive to see. So I asked a person from there and he told me that many of the workers in Manila have come from the provinces. They came looking for work so they can support their families by sending money back. Thus they are motivated by their desire to support their family. There are other reasons too, but whatever the reason is, the result gives a good impression of the person and the business they work for. There is a saying in the Philippines: “There can be no earthly bliss not watered by tears.” Maybe this could be the mentality behind the hard work. They understand that hard work brings its rewards. Of course this concept is very Buddhist too. Without putting in the effort, we cannot reap the results.

The greater the effort, the bigger the result. Recently there was the Pacquiao Mayweather fight that gripped the attention of the sporting world. Both fighters have made it to the very top of their sports, and are now being richly rewarded, earning over 100 million dollars each for this fight alone. Yet both fighters had very difficult upbringings. Pacquiao was born into poverty in the provinces of the Philippines. He dropped out of high school because his family could not afford it. At the age of 14 he moved to Manila to box, and lived on the streets for a while. He started earning $2 for each fight he won. Mayweather was born into a home where both parents were involved in drugs in some way. Despite the conditions, both fought on with persistence and dedication to become masters of their profession.

In the Philippines the jeepney is a mode of inexpensive transportation. It’s a jump on jump off system and there is no fare collector. You pay the driver directly, on the honor system. If you are too far from the driver you pass the money down the line of the other passengers. Your change is passed back the same way. I like the sense of honesty and helpfulness that goes into this little ritual. But one night while riding a jeepney, a young man got on. He did not offer payment. He rode on and jumped off without paying. I have taken the jeepneys a lot, and I was shocked to see this happen, as I had not seen it happen before and did not see it since. Because riding for free can be done with ease, it makes me appreciate even more the honesty of the majority.

People and families living and working on the street is not an uncommon sight. But what I was touched to see was how the children help the parents with the family jobs. Not far from where I was staying there was one such family. Often when I would walk by during the day I would see the young girl, maybe about 7 years old, on the pavement alone washing clothes in all earnestness. At other places I would see young girls getting their baby sibling dressed, or diligently feeding them while their parent did another job. Each time it was a moving sight to see.

Although I cherish the experiences I’ve had in the Philippines, I am most of all moved by those who are listening to Buddhism regularly. Several people became official Shinran Followers recently. It is like flowers of Buddhism are growing in the fertile ground there. People with deep bonds to Buddhism have appeared. One new member said to me that since he has been listening to Buddhism he has understood that it’s not only him who is suffering, but everyone is suffering. Another member has moved me by their desire to share the teachings with friends and strangers, inviting people to meetings, handing out flyers, and thinking of other creative means. Another said that when they listen to a lecture and read You Were Born For A Reason they feel that it’s Amida Buddha who is speaking to them, and not the speaker or the authors of the book. I have been more than moved time and time again with what I have seen and heard from the Buddhist Followers there. I can only feel that there are more people with deep bonds to Buddhism who are waiting to know the real reason why they live.

Frank Costelloe, Los Angeles

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #52 | 2015, Reflections on time in the Philippines

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