Shrink Your Ego and Win Love

She looked forward to happily-ever-after when she got married, but she was bitterly disappointed. After going through one rough patch after another, she realized that being tough and unyielding only led her to hurt others, but that shrinking her ego helped her win love.

Li learned to use a computer so that she can set things up at the Siqiao Recycling Station. Her work allows volunteers to gather together and listen to Master Cheng Yen’s Dharma talks via videoconferencing.

In 2001, the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States shocked the whole world. That year, Li Ying-xiu (李英秀) also experienced an earth-shattering event in her marriage. Twenty years into her marriage, she learned from her own children that her husband was having an affair.

Driving her kids away

Li, 57, was born in Tainan, southern Taiwan. The oldest child in her family, she was a stern sister to her siblings, who easily got a scolding from her. After she graduated from junior high, she decided to move out and start working. This was primarily to escape from her unhappy family—her parents were constantly fighting. After working at a textile company for a few years, she started to dream of meeting her Mr. Right: “After I marry, I won’t have to work, and I’ll be able to live happily ever after.” She met her future husband through her uncle and tied the knot with him when she was 19.

Li did her best to be a good homemaker and gave her children—two sons and a daughter—the best care she could. Her husband was a construction contractor and often had to work out of town. Sometimes he returned home just once a month. But instead of cherishing their time together when he was home, Li often used the opportunities to complain. She said it was tough running a household with three kids and that she needed more TLC from him. Though she may have been right, the way she put it and her tone and attitude were far from winning. As a result, they always ended up arguing.

With her husband away a lot, her life revolved around her children. She was always hovering around them. However, her helicopter parenting style drove them away instead of bringing them closer to her.

“I was very much influenced by my parents when it came to parenting and disciplining my children,” Li recalled. “My parents never explained to us what we had done wrong; they just resorted to scolding and beating.”

She was concerned that her children would end up in bad company, so she imposed strict curfews on them and demanded that they come home immediately after school. She refused to talk to them and learn what they felt about this.

Her daughter, Zhang Ya-rou (張雅柔), began avoiding her mother when she was in junior high. If she came home from school and found her mom home, she would hightail it to her room without first greeting her mom or saying anything to her. She said she was just trying to avoid “disaster” because as soon as she and her mom began talking, an argument would erupt.

Using her authority as a mother to keep her children on track was all Li knew. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to improve her relationships with her children—she just didn’t know how.

Her relationships with her kids showed no sign of improving, but her marriage was on the rocks too. When she was 39, she found out that her husband was having an affair. She was devastated. Her bitterness and unhappiness further strained her ties with her kids. “Mom took her resentment for dad out on us,” recalled her younger son, Zhang Ke-qiang (張克強). “We knew she was in pain, but we were miserable too.”

Yet more blows were in store for her. Li’s husband cosigned a loan for a friend, using their house as collateral. Unfortunately, the friend defaulted on the loan. In order to save their home, Li’s three children began working by day and going to school by night to make money. Later, her husband borrowed money from a loan shark to help with the cash flow in his business, but he ran off in the end, leaving his wife and children to repay the debt.

Li decided to learn a skill and work to help with her family’s finances. She took up hairdressing. “All I felt toward my husband was resentment,” she said. “He stopped coming home entirely. It wasn’t until we settled all his debts that he began visiting us every once in a while.”

A retired hairdresser, Li cuts people’s hair when she visits needy people and finds that they need a haircut. Yu Bo-qing

Forgiving others is being kind to yourself

Li remembered what a celebrity had once said: “If you want to change your fate, you first have to do good deeds.” Therefore, when she met Tzu Chi volunteer Zheng Han-yi (鄭涵憶) in the hair salon where she worked, she quickly became a Tzu Chi donating member and began making monthly donations to the charity foundation.

Li recalled that Zheng often showed care and concern for her and asked how she and her family were doing. She also suggested that she watch Tzu Chi’s Da Ai TV. After some time, Li decided to give it a try, so she tuned into the station. “I thought that since I always just sat and stared into the air when I returned home after work,” she said, “I might just as well check out this Da Ai channel.”

“It’s not enough to have love in your heart—you must also express it through actions.” It gave her pause when she saw this aphorism by Master Cheng Yen appear on the screen.

“I used to have such a strong personality that I rarely listened to others,” she said, “Everything rubbed me the wrong way. I had love in my heart, but I rarely translated it into action.”

Resonating with Master Cheng Yen’s teachings, she began volunteering for Tzu Chi by serving at the Siqiao Recycling Station in Tainan. She also started to learn to show her love for her family and people around her.

She even decided to extend her love to her husband. But she soon found that it’s easy to love those that you like, but a real pain to love those that you don’t. After a long struggle, however, she managed to change her attitude towards her husband. She worked on forgiving him, and she even asked her kids to do the same and show respect for their father.

Her children were outraged at first: How could their mother show leniency towards their father after what he had done to them? They even said that something had to be “wrong with her upstairs” for her to suggest that they forgive and respect him.

Li shared with her children the Tzu Chi Four-Magic Soup: contentment, gratitude, understanding, and accommodation. She also extolled her husband’s virtues and explained his situation to them to bring them around. By and by, her younger son, Ke-qiang, began to change his attitude, and he was no longer so averse to his irresponsible father. “Mom told us that when she went to visit the needy, she saw people who had had it worse than us,” Ke-qiang observed. “She said that at least our father provided for us when we were growing up.”

Li’s daughter, Ya-rou, eventually came around too. She was once so angry with her dad that she urged her mother to get a divorce, but she became more mature and thoughtful after she undertook voluntary military service. The change she witnessed in her mom helped dissolve her ill feelings towards her dad too. “After Mom joined Tzu Chi, she became more patient and better at listening to us,” Ya-rou noted. “She’s no longer such a critical and unreasonable person. She even told us that life is impermanent and that we should learn to be more broad-hearted so that we could be more at peace.”

“Forgiving others is being kind to yourself.” Li often pondered the wisdom of Master Cheng Yen’s words and tried to internalize them to smooth her rough edges. When her husband occasionally returned home, she and her three children no longer looked at him with leery eyes. Instead, they treated him with respect. When Ke-qiang was getting married, he even phoned his father and invited him to his wedding.

Li sorts recycling with her toddler granddaughter at her side.

Challenges as a volunteer

At the encouragement of Tzu Chi volunteer Xie Ying-mei (謝英美), Li started training to become a certified Tzu Chi volunteer. She received her certification in 2010. Her world was no longer confined to her family. However, with her volunteer work came more challenges for her to handle.

Not long after she was certified, she took on the role of a team leader. Besides running her own beauty salon, she often had to arrange for volunteers to undertake a variety of duties, such as attending funerals or chanting sutras for the deceased. When she received instructions to find people to help out, she couldn’t feel at ease until she had taken care of the matter. That sometimes meant she had to leave the customer she was serving to make some phone calls. “My customers were always telling me to attend to them first, before I made the phone calls,” she recalled. “But I just couldn’t feel at ease until I had found people who could volunteer.”

When she was still new to her role as a team leader, she naively thought that people would be quick to accept whatever task she asked them to take on, but she soon found to her dismay that that wasn’t the case. When she couldn’t find enough people to undertake a task, she panicked. Only later did she realize that, before inviting other volunteers to serve, she should first learn who was more likely to be available during the week and who was freer on the weekend. Trying to accommodate their schedules was one way she would be less likely to receive no for an answer.

“Making phone calls to ask people to volunteer can test your patience,” Li pointed out, “especially as some people are rather blunt.” She said it was especially hard in the beginning, when she was newly certified and hadn’t had the time to get to know many of her team members yet. As a result, she had a hard time getting them to do things. Fortunately, volunteer Xie Ying-mei, who had encouraged her to train to become a certified volunteer, stepped in. She helped Li enlist help, and she drove volunteers around to make it easier for them to go places. She urged Li not to feel frustrated, and to overcome difficulties instead of being overcome by them. She also coached her on how to handle these things on her own. She said to Li, “If you show enough goodwill, people will usually respond the same way. People may say no to you, but it doesn’t mean that they will always say no to you.”

Xie’s support made her feel secure and gave her courage to keep going. Li did her best to learn the ropes, to master her role, so that she could be an asset instead of a burden to others. She told herself that not everyone had cultivated themselves well enough before they joined Tzu Chi—she should make allowances and keep an open mind. She learned as she went, fine-tuning her thinking and attitude and improving herself as a person.

“If not for the training in Tzu Chi, I wouldn’t have been able to let go of my ego and learn with humility,” Li said. “I had a very strong personality. If I had refused to change, others would have found it really hard to work with me.”

Her life hadn’t been a smooth ride—her husband’s affair, her problems with her children, the pressure to repay her husband’s debts, and the challenges she encountered as a volunteer—but Li eventually emerged from it all a more mellow person.

Yet, like the old Chinese saying goes, “The road to happiness is strewn with setbacks,” Li found a bigger challenge waiting around the corner for her.

Keeping at it despite the pain

In 2012, a health checkup revealed that Li had a tumor in her thyroid and that she also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. “The doctor found out that the tumor was malignant,” Li said. “I didn’t realize how bad the situation was, so I calmly underwent treatment.”

Though she didn’t worry much, the pain she experienced after surgery gave her a really hard time. It took all she had to get down on her knees and to get back up. Her shoulders were stiff, and her joints ached.

“Sometimes just a light touch to my skin or the brush of a breeze triggered pain,” Li recalled. “I had to take medicine every day. I developed a moon face due to the medicine I took, but I was still in pain.” Only then did she realize how important her health was.

She had always been nimble, but even putting her feet on the floor after the surgery brought her sharp pain. Even so, she gritted her teeth and tried to move around as much as she could. That must have loosened her hamstrings or something because it then became easier for her to move around.

Li closed her shop permanently in 2014 and began focusing all her energies on volunteering. The Siqiao Recycling Station became her second home. Besides arranging for team members to serve at various events, she volunteered whenever she was needed. After a while, she found her health getting better and better.

Li believed that many illnesses are psychological in nature. Her doctor also told her that stress leads to endocrine disorders. In response, she tried to adjust her attitude towards all kinds of pressure in life and used volunteering to take her mind off her bodily discomforts. It worked well for her.

A freer mind

Li feels that an important key in her transformation was Master Cheng Yen’s teachings. Listening to her Dharma talks has greatly helped her grow spiritually. She uses her teachings to cleanse away her inner impurities and to return to her pure innate nature.

In 2014, volunteers in Li’s area began gathering at the Siqiao Recycling Station early every morning to listen to Master Cheng Yen’s Dharma talk via videoconferencing. Li is among those who attend the talks.

The talk starts every morning at 5:20. It takes discipline to rise so early to attend the talks, but Li has persisted. She found that absorbing the Master’s teachings day in and day out makes a real difference in her. Her endurance and perseverance have increased. She has become better at seeing things in perspective. Problems that used to bother her have stopped being problems, and things that used to feel difficult no longer feel so.

“We all tend to underestimate ourselves, convinced that it is beyond our abilities to undertake certain responsibilities,” Li noted. “I’m grateful to the Master and Tzu Chi for helping me become stronger, more understanding, and more tolerant. I’ve found that if we can look at all things and people with compassion, everything will become so different.”

She admitted that she had started attending the Master’s early morning talks because she felt she was obligated to do so as a team leader, but in the end she was really glad she had done so. Listening to the Master’s Dharma talks every day reminds her to constantly reflect on herself and remain humble. The Master has also taught her to distinguish between what she wants and what she needs. She has learned to let go of her attachments to many things. She now has fewer worries and a more peaceful mind.

She compared joining Tzu Chi to peeling an onion. Layer after layer, she peeled off her ignorance, pride, and other shortcomings. Though peeling an onion can sting your eyes and make your nose run, in the end you feel refreshed and invigorated. “That I have been able to see my faults and inadequacies, improve on them, and practice humility—these are my greatest rewards.”

Li (right) attends Master Cheng Yen’s early morning Dharma talk at the Siqiao Recycling Station in Tainan. Yu Bo-qing


September 2019