It’s now been four decades since this happened. One day, back when I was a junior in high school, my classmates and I went on a bike ride through the countryside. As dusk fell, we arrived at Zhaiming Temple in Longtan. The old monk took a good look at each of us, patted A-Ding on the shoulder and said, “You have a limitless future.”
Startled, A-Ding mumbled, “Master, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. A-Chuan has the brightest future. I’m just going to be an ordinary elementary school teacher—why does he think I’m the one with the potential?”
Now forty years have passed. The majority of the students in our class got good jobs.
Recently, we decided to have a reunion to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of our graduation. Nearly all of us who were still in Taiwan came to the reunion, and we had a great time talking with one another. I found it interesting that what people cared about the most was not our differences—the topic of worldly success now held little appeal for us. Instead, conversations tended to center around our various ailments: somebody’s hip hurt, somebody’s back ached. One fellow was particularly heroic: he’d had his kidney replaced. The way he talked about it made us tremble. But the thing we remembered most fondly was how we used to play basketball every day at lunchtime. If we had tried to revive the tradition that day, under the scorching midday sun, I’m sure we would have fallen down and died.
When afternoon rolled around, A-Ding told us that ever since he retired, he’d been volunteering at an orphanage for eight hours a day. He offered to give us a tour of the place. Only then did we find out what a busy man he is.
During the mere hour that we were there, A-Ding had to patiently listen to a little girl complain. Another little boy tripped and skinned his knee, but A-Ding fixed the problem with a little Mercurochrome. He answered three phone calls in that hour: one from someone who’d found a job for one of their kids, one about picking a sick child up from the hospital, and one about applying for disability benefits on behalf of a child.
Someone suggested that we should visit Zhaiming Temple again before going home.
I believe that at that moment, all of us were thinking of what the old monk had said to A-Ding that day: “You have a limitless future.” I still hadn’t quite figured out what he meant.
As we sat there staring into space, a mathematically inclined student suddenly said to A-Ding, “I finally understand what the old monk meant! The reason all of us work hard every day is to benefit ourselves. That being the case, we naturally want to succeed. But no matter how great it may be, self-centered success is always limited. Even of one of us got elected president, he’d have to leave office one day. But you? Because you spend all your time serving those children, I think you feel successful every day, only your kind of success has no limits. No wonder the old monk said your future was limitless.”
A-Ding didn’t answer, but it seemed like everyone agreed.
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