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Blog » Sweet Dews Of Dharma Talks » 2015 » Story of a Columbian boy

Story of a Columbian boy2015-03-10



Spoken by Dharma Master Heng Yin


This true story takes place in Colombia, a beautiful, mountainous country in South America. The most important thing about this story is that it is about filial respect. We all talk about being filial to our parent, right? I think all of you know what being filial is. You have to respect your parents and take care of them when they get older. Furthermore, we also have to respect and take care of our grandparents and our elders. In Colombia there are some places that are very poor, and in this one particular area, the people were very poor. So they had a practicee that if you became too old to work and your family was too poor to support you, then they would just let you live on your own with no one to take care of you. So these old people had to fend for themselves.

In this place there was this boy, I think he was 7 or 8 years old. His name was Albeiro. He was very close to his grandpa, and when his grandpa died he really missed him. His grandpa had always taught him and told him a lot of stories. Because he missed grandpa he went into the streets looking for some other elders that might replace his grandpa, and be a friend to him and tell him stories. He wandered into a part of the town where all these abandoned old people were living and he saw that nobody was taking care of them. They were living in shacks and were each alone. Basically they were not related to each other. There were women, men in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, and they were each living in the shack. Sometime the shack was leaking, and sometime they didn’t have enough food. Or they didn’t have any water or electricity. When he saw that, his compassionate heart came forth and he really wanted to help these people who to him were just like his grandfather except they were not taken care of. So every morning his mother would give him some warm milk in the thermos to bring to school. He would ask her, “Mom, can you give me two thermoses?” His mom didn’t ask why yet, but every morning he would take the two thermoses of milk and go to the this part of town where all the old people were and let them at least have some warm milk. He would go around to see who was hungry, who needed some milk. He did that for a long time until one day his mother finally asked him, “What are you doing with the two thermoses of milk every day? That is a lot of milk for you to drink.” So he told her that he was going to feed these old people.

The mother was very happy that he was being so compassionate. She agreed to keep giving him thermoses of milk (even though his family was also poor), but he soon realized that it was not enough because they needed more than just milk. He was only 7 or 8 years old, but very creative. He would go to town and talk to the bakery and the store owners. He would ask, “Do you have any food that you couldn’t sell that’s getting kind of stale and maybe you’re going to throw away soon? There are a lot of old people that don’t have anything to eat so could you give me all your leftovers that you didn’t sell?” He would carry a big sack every day and take the bus to the downtown area. All these store owners started to know that he would come on his daily route in the morning, and they would give him all this bread, vegetables, and other kinds of food that didn’t sell the day before. Then he would hike back with this big sack of food plus the milk and go around again to distribute. Pretty soon though, he knew that he alone was not enough to help so many old people. So he rounded up his friends and all the young people. He said: you know let’s form a team. I think they called themselves the Little Angels. These little angels were about his age. He said, “Okay, you take this kind of food, you go this store and get this kind of food and bring it to these people. You go to this other store and get bread and bring it to that section of old people.” So they provided a delivery service every day before school.

Now that he had a team of young people who wanted to help, he figured out that these old people were getting so old that they didn’t have enough energy to wash their own hair and to take a bath. You have to heat up the water on a stove in order to take a bath. They didn’t have showers with running water. The elderly also had trouble dealing with the government. Sometime they needed what we call food stamps, but they couldn’t get down to the city and talk about their case. Albeiro was older by now and was very capable. He started to be able to go talk to the government on the behalf of these different people. “This lady needs some service or some welfare.” He also wanted to help them help themselves. Because the old people didn’t have much education, they didn’t know how to read and write. So he taught them. He actually organized classes where the children, the team of angels, taught the old people how to write their own names. They taught them the alphabet so at least they could sign their names if they had to sign a legal document.

Later on a reporter heard about what this young kid was doing and wrote an article about him in the local newspaper. Somehow a French filmmaker saw this article and decided he would come and interview him. Pretty soon what all the angels were doing was made into a film that was shown internationally. People were very touched by what Albeiro was doing, and they asked him: what are your plans for the future? By that time he was probably 11 or 12. He said, “These old people - I cannot help them very much just by giving them things daily. They need a place to stay where they feel secure, where they have a community and feel happy. I would like to build a kind of community just for these elders to be able to live, and young people can come to take care of them and serve them. I would like to become a doctor so that I can treat their illnesses as well.” People in Europe saw this film and were very touched. They donated money to him. He very responsibly kept track of all the money and he said we would wait until the time was right so that he could actually build a center for these elders.

Fast forward several years: he went to medical school and is now a doctor, and the center has been built and is fully operational. He has a team of young people, many of whom are from the streets, people who were maybe caught using or dealing drugs and so forth. He was able to influence them by saying, “Hey, your life is messed up, but if you are able to change, then you can find great happiness and fulfillment in helping these elders, which you can see as your own family.” This true story was broadcast on San Francisco TV at some point. It is called Little Angel of Columbia and really shows the Bodhisattva spirit and filial respect. Although the people of this particular area were so poor, they were not able to practice filial respect in the sense of taking care of their elders, this little boy was able to care for all the elders as his own.

I think it’s really important for us, whether we are parents or teachers, to teach young people how to be filial. Of course, it’s not easy to teach because you can’t just say just “be filial” and they’ll be filial. You have to find ways to show them how fulfilling it can be. It is also important to provide a good environment where everyone shares the same values. Filial respect is the foundation for cultivating the way. If you cannot even be filial, then forget about becoming a Buddha. Being basic human being, you have first recognize the great kindness that our parents and elders have shown us. The Venerable Master really exemplified filial piety and the great Mahayana sense of seeing all elders as my own grandparents, seeing all men as my fathers and all women as my mothers. That’s why he instituted Honoring Elders Day hoping we can honor our elders daily and because he wanted to use Buddhism to transform the society. Cultivating is not just going away to the mountains and cultivating on our own, but involves practicing to transform society, to benefit all people, and to help them awaken their good roots.

I think one way to help young people appreciate what they have is to let them experience an environment where people have much fewer things. Such an environment can awaken their compassion or else make them realize: “hey, I don’t need so many material things to be happy. In fact, I’d be happier without all this stuff.”

In the past few years, I brought some of our high school and junior high students to a pretty poor rural village where the roads were not paved. We help them improve their homes so that they would be immune to flooding because they didn’t have proper foundations or insulation. The students experienced a very simple life eating beans and rice every day and having no electronic media, just playing with their kids. Kids there were happy to have a beaten up soccer ball. Everybody would pile into a pickup truck and come over to our place and play soccer. They were excellent soccer players. Our students saw how easily content those kids were. After experiencing that for four days, they realized how happy they were without their iPad and all the electronics, just enjoying nature and people directly, and living very simply. At the same time, they felt the joy of giving, of being able to participate in building projects that helped somebody else to have a bathroom or a house with more than one room or a house that wouldn’t flood and that stayed warm in the winter. Being able to feel like you made a difference in somebody’s life can be a most transformative experience.