Liao-Fan's Four Lessons
THE FIRST LESSON:
LEARNING TO CREATE DESTINY
My father passed away when I was young. My mother persuaded me to learn medicine, instead of
studying and passing the imperial examinations, because it would be a good way to support myself while helping others. Perhaps, I could even become famous through my medical skills, thus fulfilling my father‟s aspiration for me.
One day, I met an elderly but distinguished looking gentleman at the Compassionate Cloud Temple. He had a long beard and such a look of a sage that I immediately paid my respects to him. He told me, “You are destined to be a government official. Next year you will attain the rank of Learned First Level Scholar. Why are you not studying for the examination?” I told him the reason. I asked the elderly
gentleman his name and where he was from. He replied, “My last name is Kong. I came from Yunnan Province. I have inherited a most sacred text on astrology by Shao-Zi. It is called The Imperial Stan-
dard of Governing the World. Shao-Zi developed the art of prediction very well. By calculations I am supposed to pass it on to you and teach you how to use it.”
I invited Mr. Kong to my home and asked my mother about him. My mother asked me to treat him very well. We then tested Mr. Kong's ability at prediction. He was always correct whether it was for big events or for small everyday matters. Therefore, I became convinced of what he had said about my destiny and again began to think of studying for the examinations. I consulted with my cousin Chen Shen. He recommended a teacher Mr. Hai-Gu Yu, who was teaching at the home of a friend, Mr. You-Fu Shen. I thus became his student.
Mr. Kong then did some more calculations for me. He told me that as a scholar, I would place four-teenth in the county examination, seventy-first in the regional examination and ninth in the provincial examination. The following year, at the three examination places I placed exactly as Mr. Kong had pre-dicted. I then asked him to make predictions for my entire life. Mr. Kong‟s calculations showed that I
would pass such and such a test in such and such a year, the year that I would become a civil scholar (equivalent to a high school student), and the year that I would receive a promotion to become an im-perial scholar (equivalent to a university student). And lastly, I would be appointed as magistrate in Si-chuan Province. After holding that position for three and a half years, I would retire and return home. I would die at the age of fifty-three, on August 14th around the hours of one to three am. Unfortunately, I would not have a son. I recorded everything that he said and carefully set it aside. After that, the outcome of every examination turned out exactly as predicted. Mr. Kong had also predicted that I would only be promoted after receiving a ration of ninety-one dan and five dou of rice. However, I had received only seventy dan of rice when the Commissioner of Education, Mr. Tu, recom-mended me for a promotion. I secretly began to doubt Mr. Kong‟s predictions. Nevertheless, the pre-
diction turned out to be correct after all, because Mr. Tu‟s replacement turned down the promotion.
It was not until some years later that a new Education Commissioner, Mr. Yin reviewed my old ex-amination papers and exclaimed, “These five essays are as well written as reports to the Emperor. How can we bury the talents of such a great scholar”. The Commissioner wanted the magistrate to issue an order for me to become a candidate for “Imperial Scholar” under his authority. After undergoing this
eventful promotion, my calculations showed that I had received exactly ninety-one dan and five dou of rice. From then on, I deeply believed that promotion or demotion, wealth or poverty all came about in due time and that even the length of one‟s life is prearranged. I began to view everything in a detached manner and ceased to seek gain or profit.
After being selected as an imperial scholar, I was to attend the University at Beijing. During my yearlong stay in the capital, my interest in meditation grew and I often sat silently, without giving rise to a single thought. I lost interest in books and did not study at all.
The following year I went to Nanjing. Before I was to enter the National University at Nanjing, I paid a visit to Master Yun-Gu, a venerable Zen Master at Qixia Mountain. We sat in meditation face to face in the Zen hall for three days and three nights without sleep. Master Yun-Gu said, “The reason why or-
dinary people cannot become sages is because they have too many wandering thoughts running through their minds. In our three-day meditation, I have not observed a single thought arise in you. Why?”
I replied that Mr. Kong had clearly predicted the entire outcome of my life. I had seen that the time of life, death, promotion and failure are all predestined. There was no use or need for me to think about it or to desire anything. The master smiled and replied, “I thought you were someone of remark-
able capabilities! Now I realize you are just an average, ordinary person”!
Feeling confused by what Master Yun-Gu said, I asked him to explain. He told me that an ordinary person‟s mind is forever occupied by wandering and imaginary thoughts, so naturally their life is bound by chi, the energy of yin and yang as well as destiny. We cannot deny the fact that it exists, but only ordinary people are bound by it. Destiny cannot bind those who cultivate great kindness. Nor can des-tiny bind those who have committed flagrant bad deeds. He told me that for the past twenty years, I had lived my life just as Mr. Kong had predicted and had done nothing to change it. Instead, I became bound by destiny. If I was not considered an ordinary person, who was. Taken aback, I asked Master Yun-Gu if it was true that we can change our destiny. The Master answered, “We create our own desti-
ny. We seek our own good fortune. It is the true teaching and says so in the Book of Songs and the
Book of History”.
In the Buddhist teachings, it is written that if we wish for and seek wealth, position, a son, a daugh-ter, long life, we can attain them. Since lying is one of the greatest offenses in the Buddha's teachings, we can be assured that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have no reason to deceive us. I then said I had heard that Mencius once said, “Whatever is sought can be attained. The seeking is in ourselves”. This refers to inner qualities such as virtue, responsibility and kindness. These are all qualities we can work toward. However, when it comes to outside factors such as wealth, fame and prestige, how can we seek to attain them? The Master replied that Mencius was correct, but that I had misinterpreted his meaning.
Master Yun-Gu said that Master Hui-Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen School taught, “All the fields
of merit are within one‟s own heart. If one seeks from the true mind within, one can be in touch with all one wishes for". By seeking inside ourselves, we will not only attain the inner qualities of virtue, re-sponsibility and kindness, but we can also attain wealth, fame and prestige. To be able to attain both on the inside and on the outside is beneficial to our reward.
Master Yun-Gu then told me that if one cannot reflect inside one‟s own heart but instead blindly seeks fame, fortune and long life from outside sources, although one may pursue them by using intelli-gence, one can only attain at most what destiny had entitled one to. To do otherwise, one might lose both inner purity and what one was predestined to have. Then this seeking will have been in vain. Master Yun-Gu then asked what were Mr. Kong‟s predictions regarding my entire life. I honestly told him the whole story. He then asked if I felt that I deserved imperial appointments or a son. I reflected upon my previous deeds and attitudes in the past for a long time. Then I answered him that no, I did not feel that I deserved an imperial appointment or a son. Those who received imperial appointments all had the appearance of good fortune and I did not. I did not work towards accumulating virtues to build up my good fortune, either. I was very impatient and narrow-minded. Sometimes, I would show off my intelligence and talent in putting down others. I also behaved arbitrarily and spoke without any sense of restraint. These were all signs of scant good fortune and virtue. How could I possibly receive an imperial appointment?
There is an old saying, “Life springs from the dirt of the earth. Clear water often harbors no fish”. The first reason why I felt that I did not deserve a son was that I was overly attached to cleanliness.
The second reason was that harmony is the cultivator of all life. But I was quick tempered and easily became angry. The third reason was based on the principle that loving-kindness is the root of repro-duction and harshness is the root of sterility. I overly guarded my own reputation and could not sacri-fice anything for the sake of others. The fourth reason was that I talked too much, which wasted a lot of chi or energy. The fifth reason was that I indulged in drinking. The sixth reason that I did not have a son was my habit of staying up nights, not knowing how to conserve my energy. Aside from these, I had many other faults that were too numerous to mention.
Master Yun-Gu then said, “According to you then, there are many things in life you do not deserve,
not only fame and a son! Those who have millions of dollars in this life must have cultivated the good fortune worthy of that amount in the past. Those who have thousands of dollars must also have good fortune, which is worthy of generating that sum. Those, who die of starvation were in fact were meant to die in that manner. The karmic result today is simply the fruit of their deeds. Heavenly beings do not have any intentions for us”.
For example, if a person has accumulated enough merits and virtues for a hundred generations, then he or she will have descendants to last a hundred generations. One who accumulates enough merits and virtues to last ten generations will then have ten generations of descendants to live out that good fortune. The same goes for three generations or two generations. For those who have no descendants at all, it is because they have not accumulated enough good merits and virtues.
“Now that you recognize your own shortcomings, you need to put forth your utmost efforts into
working to change and reforming your misdeeds, which cause you not to have a child or become an im-perial official. You need to cultivate virtue and tolerance and to treat others with compassion and har-mony. Also, to care for your health and conserve your energy and spirit. Live as though everything of the past dissolved yesterday and all of the future begins today. If you can accomplish this, then you are a person born anew, a person of virtue and sincerity”.
“If even our body is governed by destiny, then how can a body of virtue and sincerity not evoke a re-sponse from heaven? As is said in the „Tai Jia Chapter‟ in The Book of History, „One may run away from
the retribution of heaven, but one can never escape the retribution for one‟s own wrong deeds.‟ “It is
also said in the Book of Songs, „To remind us to permanently accord with the mind of heaven and to
seek the great good fortune by our own‟”.
The Master told me, "Mr. Kong had predicted that you would not receive an imperial appointment or have a son. These are the retributions of heaven, but even they can still be changed. You only need to develop your virtue, diligently try to practice kind deeds and work to accumulate many hidden merits and virtues. These are your own transactions to create good fortune. How is it then possible that you will not get to enjoy them?"
“I Ching, The Book of Changes, was written to help people bring about good fortune and to avoid
adversity. If everything is predestined with no room for change, then how can we improve upon our good fortune and avoid adversity? The very first chapter of I Ching, The Book of Changes also said,
„Families who often perform kind deeds will have an excess of good fortune to pass on to the next gen-
erations.‟ Do you believe this”? I replied “Yes”.
I gratefully accepted his advice paid my respects to him by prostrating. Then I began to regret all my past wrongdoings, whether large or small, in front of the Buddha‟s image. I wrote down my wish to
pass the imperial examinations and vowed to complete three thousand meritorious deeds to show my gratitude towards ancestors, earth and heaven.
Upon hearing my vow, Master Yun-Gu showed me a merit-fault chart and taught me how to keep a daily record of all the kind and unkind acts I did. He told me that bad deeds would neutralize the good ones. The Master also taught me to recite the Zhun Ti Mantra. Only with a pure and concentrated mind could what I seek for come true. Master Yun-Gu explained that it had been said by specialists in drawing talismanic figures, “Those who are considered experts in the art of drawing charms but who do
not know the right way to do so will be laughed at by spirits”. The key to drawing charms is having no thoughts from start to finish. With this understanding, start with the first stroke, which is called a good beginning. In the process of drawing, one must let go of all wandering thoughts. Do not even give rise to a single thought of goodness. Only under these circumstances can a charm be effective. Master Yun-Gu continued, “When one prays for and seeks for something or tries to change one‟s fate, it is important that one does so without giving rise to a single thought. In this way, one will easily re-ceive a response. Mencius discussed in 'Learning to Create Destiny' that, 'There is no difference be-tween a long life and a short life.' At first glance, one would find this hard to understand. How can long life and short life be the same? In fact, when we do not give rise to thought there is no duality in short or long life”.
“Separately analyze re-creating destiny. When there is no duality between wealth and poverty we will be able to create and form our own destiny. When there is no duality between failure and success, then we can control the fate of prestige and lack of position. When there is no duality between short life and long life, then we can control the destiny of life and death. The most important concern for human beings is that of life and death. So talking about early death and longevity encompass all condi-tions, whether favorable or unfavorable, whether gain or loss”.
“We have to wait until our cultivation reaches a certain level then our destiny will change. This change depends on the accumulation of merits, on seeking a response from the heavens. When culti-vating, one needs to be aware of one‟s own faults and resolve to correct them just as in curing a sick-
ness. While waiting we should let go of the thought of desiring something that we are not supposed to have and the thought of wishing to receive a reward”. It would be quite an accomplishment in achiev-
ing these teachings to be able to reach the innate „State of No Thought‟. It is the actual learning and practice of wisdom.”
Master Yun-Gu told me “I know that you are still unable to accomplish the „State of No Thought‟, but you can practice reciting the Zhun Ti Mantra continuously without counting the number of recitations and without interruption. When you reach a higher level of constant mindfulness, you will be able to achieve the level of „to not recite when reciting and to recite when not reciting‟. When you no longer give rise to wandering thoughts, the mantra will become effective and successful.”
My name used to be Xue-Hai, which means “broad learning”, but after receiving these teachings from Master Yun-Gu, I changed it to Liao-Fan, which means, “transcending the ordinary”. It signified my un-
derstanding of the fact that we could create our destiny and that I did not wish to be like ordinary people, who were controlled by their destiny. From then on, I began to be very cautious and careful in whatever I thought or did. Soon I felt quite different from before. In the past, I was careless and had no self-discipline at all. Now, I found myself being naturally cautious and conscientious. I maintained this attitude even when alone, for I know that there are spirits and heavenly beings everywhere who can know my every action and thought. I am cautious to not offend them with my thoughts. Even when I encounter people, who dislike or slander me, I could take their insults with a patient and peace-ful mind and do not feel compelled to quarrel with them.
The year after I met Master Yun-Gu, I took the preliminary imperial examination in which Mr. Kong had predicted that I would come in third place. Amazingly, I came in first! Mr. Kong‟s predictions were beginning to lose their accuracy. He had not predicted that I would pass the imperial examination at all, but that autumn, I did!
Although I had corrected many of my faults, I found that I could not wholeheartedly do the things I ought to. Even if I did do them, it was forced and unnatural. I reflected within and found that I still had many shortcomings. Such as seeing an opportunity to practice kindness and not being eager enough to do it or having doubts when helping others in need. Sometimes I forced myself to act kindly, but my speech was still untamed and offensive. I found I could contain myself when sober, but after a few drinks, I would lose self-discipline and act without restraint. Although I often practiced kind deeds
and accumulated merits, my faults and offenses were so numerous, they seemed to outnumber my good deeds. A lot of my time was spent vainly and without value.
It took me more than ten years to complete the three thousand meritorious deeds I had vowed to do. I was unable to dedicate the merits from these three thousand good deeds at a temple until I returned to my hometown in the south, a few years later. At that time, I had the opportunity to ask two monks to dedicate them for me.
Then I made my second wish and that was for a son. I vowed to complete another three thousand good deeds. A few years later, your mother gave birth to you and named you Tian-Qi. Every time I performed a good deed, I would record it in a book. Your mother, who could not read or write, would use a goose feather dipped in ink and make a red circle on the calendar for every good deed she did. Sometimes she gave food to the poor or bought living creatures from the marketplace and freed them in the wild. She recorded all of these with her circles on the calendar. At times, she could accumulate more than ten red circles in one day!
Everyday we practiced like this and in four years, the three thousand deeds were completed. Again, I invited the same two masters to make the dedications, this time in our home. On September thir-teenth of that same year, I made my third wish and that was to pass the highest level of the imperial examination. I also vowed to complete ten thousand meritorious deeds. After three years, I attained my wish and passed the examination. I was also made the mayor of Baodi County.
Then I prepared a small book to record my merits and faults and called it the Book of Cultivating the Mind. Every morning, when I started to work in the office my servant would bring the book and have the guard place it on my desk. I would record my every deed, good or bad, no matter how small. At night I set an altar in the courtyard and put on my official uniform to emulate the way of Mr. Zhao, an officer in the Song Dynasty. I burned incense and reported all my deeds to the heavens. Once, your mother was concerned when she saw that I had not accumulated much merit. In the past, she was able to help me in our accumulation of good deeds and we were able to complete three thousand meritorious deeds. Now, I had made a vow to complete ten thousand good deeds and there were fewer opportunities to practice them at the government residence. She worried about how long it would be before my vow could be fulfilled.
That night, after your mother spoke these words, I dreamed of a heavenly being and told him of my difficulty in completing the ten thousand good deeds. The heavenly being told me that when I became mayor, I had reduced the taxes on the farmlands. That was a great good deed and that deed itself was worth ten thousand merits. My vow was already fulfilled! As it turned out, the farmers in Baodi County had to pay a very high tax and when I came to office, I reduced the taxes on the farmlands by nearly half. But still, I felt strange and bewildered. I still had doubts and wondered how a single deed could be worth ten thousand merits.
Coincidentally, the Zen Master Huan-Yu was traveling from Wutai Mountain and stopped in Baodi. I invited him to the government residence, told him of my dream and asked whether it was believable. Master Huan-Yu said, “If one does a good deed with such a true and sincere heart without expectation
of reward, then one deed can indeed be worth the merits from ten thousand good deeds. Besides, your act of reducing the taxes in this county benefits more than ten thousand people.” Upon hearing his words, I immediately gave all my savings for him to take back to the Wutai Mountain. I asked the Mas-ter to use the money for a food offering for ten thousand monks and to dedicate the merits for me. Mr. Kong had predicted that I would die at the age of fifty-three. However, I survived that year without illnesses although I did not ask the heavens for a longer life. Now I am sixty-nine. The Book of History explains that, “Destiny exists but is difficult to be believed by most people because it is very changeable”. “Destiny is not set, but is only created and determined by ourselves”. These are all true. I came to understand that both good fortune and misfortune are incurred by our own actions. These are truly the words of sages and virtuous people! If one were to say that good fortune and adversity
are all determined by the heavens, then I would consider that person to be ordinary. Tian-Qi, my son, I wonder how your life will be? In any case of destiny we should always prepare for the worst. Therefore, even in times of prosperity, act as if you were not. When things are going your way, be mindful of adversity. And when you have enough food and clothing, be mindful of poverty. And when loved and respected by all, remain careful, apprehensive and conservative. When the family is greatly respected and revered, carry yourself humbly. When your learning is extensive and profound, always think that the more that you learn the less you feel that you know. When thinking of the past, we can advocate the virtues of our ancestors. When thinking of the present, we can conceal the faults of our own parents. When thinking of the country, we can think of how we can repay its kindness to us and when thinking of the family we can think of how to bring about our families‟ good fortune. When thinking of the outside, think of how to help those in need around us and when thinking of within think of how to prevent improper thoughts and actions from arising.
We need to be able to find one‟s faults everyday and to correct them everyday. If we are unable to detect any faults in ourselves then we will think that everything we do is all right. Then, we will be un-able to correct our faults and improvement will be out of the question. There are many intelligent people in the world who cannot make improvements in cultivating morality and virtue. Nor can they make improvements in their work. Their failures in this life are owed to a single word. Laziness. Tian-Qi, the teachings of Master Yun-Gu are truly the most worthy, profound, real and proper teach-ings, and I hope that you will be well-versed in them and practice them diligently. You must use your time wisely and not let it slip by in vain.
THE SECOND LESSON:
WAYS TO REFORM
During the Spring-Autumn Period, China was divided into several small nations. Many prestigious advisors and counselors of these nations were able to accurately predict whether a person‟s future would be good or bad, fortunate or unfortunate based on their observation of that person‟s speech and behavior. Many of these are recorded in history books.
Usually, there are signs that signal impending danger or the coming of good fortune. These signs are a reflection of one‟s heart and mind. Though it is the mind from which thoughts arise, one's ap-
pearance can fully portray a person‟s character. Usually a person is more fortunate when tending to-
ward kindness but invites trouble when tending toward meanness. Ordinary people often do not know what is actually going on. It is as if their vision was blurred. Since they cannot see the true reality, they claim that good fortune and misfortune are unpredictable.
When we are absolutely honest and truthful, our hearts will be in agreement with the will of heaven. By observing our goodness, others will be able to foresee the coming of good fortune. On the other hand, by observing our lack of goodness, others can also foresee upcoming adversities. If we wish to obtain good fortune and avoid misfortune, we must start first with reform before we even contemplate kind behavior.
There are three ways to reform our faults. First, we must be able to feel ashamed. Think of all of the ancient sages and virtuous people whose names and teachings have lasted for hundreds of genera-tions. They were people just like us, but why is my name tarnished and my reputation ruined like a cracked tile? We are unwilling to part with worldly desires.
I secretly do many improper things and think others will not know about them. I am shamelessly proud of myself. One day I will sink to the level of an animal without even realizing it. There is nothing else in the world, which calls for more shame and remorse than behavior such as this. Mencius once said, “Shame is the greatest and most important word in a person‟s lifetime.” Why? Because one who
knows shame will put forth his or her best efforts into correcting faults and will eventually attain sage-hood or become a virtuous person. One who cannot comprehend the word shame will be unrestrained and immoral and will be just like an animal. These are really key words to correcting our faults. The second way to reform is to know fear. The celestial beings and earthly spirits all hover over our heads in observation. It is impossible for us to deceive them. Even when my wrongdoings are done in a concealed place, the beings and spirits of heaven and earth are just like a mirror, clearly reflecting all my faults. If my offense is serious, then all kinds of adversities will befall me. If my fault is minor, it will still deduct from my current good fortune. How can I not feel fear?
And there is more. Even when we are alone in our room, the beings and spirits watch over us very carefully and record everything. Even if we try to conceal or cover up our improper acts with clever speech, the spirits and celestial beings can see through to our hearts as clearly as seeing into our lungs or liver. Ultimately, we cannot deceive ourselves. If others were to see our behavior, we would find ourselves discredited. Therefore, how can we not be constantly cautious of our every action and be fearful of the consequences they might evoke? But there is more to it! As long as a person still has one breath left, then he or she has the chance to regret even the most serious wrongdoings and offenses. Once, a person who behaved badly during his entire lifetime felt remorse just when he was about to die. He realized his past mistakes and regretted all the bad things that he had done. His mind came to a very kind thought and immediately afterwards, he peacefully passed away. This is to say that if a person can have an overwhelming and courageous kind thought at the most important moment, then it can cleanse away hundreds of years of accumulated misdeeds. This is just like only needing one lamp to bring light into a valley that has been dark for a thousand years. It does not matter how long one has been committing misdeeds or if the offenses were newly made. He or she is an exceptional person as long as they are able to reform!
Besides, we are living in a tumultuous and constantly changing world. Our body, made of flesh and blood, is extremely perishable. If our next breath does not come, then this body will no longer be part of us. Then, even if we did want to reform, it would be too late to do so. Therefore, when we commit a wrongdoing, our retribution in the physical world is a bad reputation, which will last for hundreds, even thousands of years. Even filial children and loving grandchildren cannot restore our honor. Then in our afterlife, we might end up in hell suffering immeasurable pain. Even the sages, virtuous people, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas cannot help us escape from the bad consequences. So how can we not be afraid?
The third way to reform is that one must have “a determined and courageous heart”. When we hesi-
tate to reform our faults because we really do not want to change, we are content with what we can get away with. For a reform to take place, we must use all of our efforts and resolve to change immediately. We should not doubt or postpone our resolve to change until tomorrow or the day after. A minor fault is like a thorn piercing our flesh. It should be quickly removed. A big fault is like a fin-ger bitten by a poisonous snake. We must cut off that finger without hesitation to prevent the poison from spreading and taking our life. In I Ching, the Book of Changes, when we get the symbol of wind
and thunder, it tells us that we have strong determination in reforming and are certain to succeed in doing so. If we can follow the three ways of shame, fear and determination to reform, then our perso-nality will surely be transformed. Just as the sun‟s rays shine on a thin layer of ice in the springtime, there is no need to worry about its melting.
There are also three methods of practice to help us reform. First is changing through behavior, second is changing through reasoning and third is changing from the heart. Since the degree of achievement varies, so do the results. For example, if I killed living beings in the past, I now vow not to kill again starting today. If I was angry and yelled at others in the past, I vow not to get angry starting today. This is how a person changes through behavior and refrains from repeating a wrongdoing by vowing not to do it again. However, it is a hundred times harder if we force ourselves not to do some-
thing than if we just stopped doing it naturally. If we do not uproot our faults, but merely suppress them, the faults will eventually resurface even if we have temporarily stopped committing them. There-fore, the method of changing through behavior cannot help us to permanently rid ourselves of our faults. We can try to reform by refraining from wrongdoings by understanding the reason and principle be-hind why we should not do something. In the instance of killing, we can reform through contemplating that loving all living things is a virtue of heaven. All living beings love life and are afraid to die. How can I be at peace with myself by taking another‟s life to nurture my own? At times, animals were even cooked alive, such as fish or crabs. They may not have been completely slaughtered before going into the cooking pot. Such pain and suffering reach down into the very bones, how can we be so cruel to them?
When we eat, we use all kinds of expensive and tasty things to nourish our bodies, enough to fill the whole dinner table! But once the meal is done, even the best delicacies will become body waste and be excreted. The result of our killing accomplishes nothing. Consuming vegetarian foods can fill and nou-rish us just as well. Why let our stomach become a graveyard and reduce our good fortune through the violation of killing?
Think again of all the living beings with flesh and blood. Like us, they have a conscience since they possess self-awareness. They and we are one entity. We can cultivate virtue and allow these living be-ings to respect us and feel safe around us. How can we continue to harm them and make them hate us? If we think about it, we will naturally feel sorrow for these animals and be unable to swallow their flesh. Another example of changing through reasoning is the person who often gets angry. They need to stop and think that everyone has his or her individual strengths and weaknesses. According to my rea-soning, if I touched on someone else‟s weakness, I should feel sorry for that weakness and forgive any
shortcomings. If someone offends me for no reason at all, then it is that person‟s problem and has nothing to do with me. There is no reason for me to get angry.
I also think that there is not a great person who thinks that he or she is always right. There is not a truly learned person who blames their faults on others. Therefore, when things do not go the way we wish, it is because we have not cultivated our virtues and morals, and have not accumulated enough merits to move others! We should always reflect upon ourselves first. In so doing, criticism can actually become a training ground to refine our character and to strengthen our abilities. Therefore, we should be very glad to accept someone else‟s criticism and teachings. What is there to be angry and complain
Additionally, we should maintain the mind of stillness when we are slandered. Although the slander-ous rumors and tale bearing spreads like a huge fire burning to the sky, eventually, like a torch it will burn itself out in space. If we hear others slandering us, get angry and try to defend ourselves, it would be like the spring silkworm spinning its own cocoon tying itself in suffocation. Therefore, no benefit but rather harm is derived from getting angry. There are other faults and offenses we can change. If we can understand the reasoning behind the need for reform, we will not repeat our mistakes. What is meant by "changing from the heart"? Although we have thousands of different types of faults, they all stem from the heart, from the mind. If my heart is still of thoughts, then actions will not arise and faults can be avoided. If our heart is rooted in faults such as desire, fame, profit or anger, we do not have to find ways to get rid of each fault.
Demons do not appear in bright daylight. This is the essence, the key for us to turn over a new leaf. All mistakes stem from the heart; therefore, we change from the heart. It is like getting rid of a poison-ous tree. If we want to put an end to it, we uproot it altogether so it cannot grow again. Why exert ourselves to no avail by pulling out its leaves one by one and cutting it twig by twig? The best way to reform our faults is through cultivating our hearts. If we are willing to cultivate our hearts, then it is possible to purify our faults right away. If my heart is pure, I can recognize and stop an improper thought as soon as it arises. The immoral idea will disappear the moment I am conscious of it.
If I am unable to succeed at reforming a fault through changing the heart, then I will try at the level of understanding, knowing the reasons why I need to make the change. If I cannot succeed with this, then I will try to reform by changing through action and force the thought to dissipate. The best way is by cultivating the heart and understanding the reasons behind the need to change. The alternative way is forcing ourselves not to commit the wrongdoing again. Sometimes all three methods have to be used to succeed at reforming a fault. It is foolish to dismiss the best way, which is to reform from the heart and to be attached to the inferior way of reforming through action.
But even when we vow to change, assistance is needed to truly reform. We will need constant re-minders from genuine friends who are witnesses to our actions in everyday life. As for our good and bad thoughts, we can ask the beings and spirits of heaven and earth to be our witnesses. We also need to be diligent and to regret sincerely and wholeheartedly from morning to night. If we can honestly re-gret from one to two weeks, one to three months, then continuing in this way, we are assured of attain-ing results and benefits.
What are the benefits of contrition? We may feel very much at ease and our hearts may feel light and generous. A person of low intelligence may suddenly become wise. Another might maintain a clear and relaxed mind even in a disturbing and confusing environment. We would also feel an extensive un-derstanding of everything. Or we would be able to drive out all hatred upon seeing an enemy and maintain a happy attitude. We may dream of spitting out black things. We may also dream of ancient sages or virtuous people who have come to encourage and escort us or we may dream of flying in space without a care in the world. We may also dream of all kinds of colorful pennants and ornately decorated canopies. These distinctive phenomena are all indications of a successful reform and a dis-solving of past offenses. However, we must not consider seeing these phenomena as a sign of perfec-tion. Instead, we must resolve to further improve ourselves and work even harder to reform. When Bo-Yu Qu was twenty, he was already mindful of his faults. He analyzed his mistakes and tried to correct them thoroughly. At the age of twenty-one, he felt he still had not completely corrected all his faults. When he was twenty-two, he felt as if twenty-one was spent dreamily, without practical im-provement. Thus, year after year, he continued to correct his faults. When he reached fifty, Bo-Yu still felt that the past forty-nine years were filled with wrongdoings. This was how particular our ancestors were regarding the correction of faults!
We are all just ordinary people and our mistakes are as numerous as the spines on a porcupine. Of-tentimes when we look back, we do not even see our own faults. This is because we are careless and do not know how to reflect on our own actions. It is as if a cataract is growing in our eye. All these are the symptoms of having accumulated too many offenses and transgressions! Our hearts may feel con-fused and oppressed, lacking energy and spirit. We will become extremely forgetful, filled with worries even when nothing is happening.
We may feel embarrassed and depressed upon meeting a virtuous person. We will become dis-pleased at hearing proper reasoning and when showing kindness to others, we are in turn treated with hostility. We will constantly have nightmares where everything is upside-down and will talk incoherently and behave abnormally. All of these are signs of misfortune. If we have any of the above symptoms, we must gather our willpower and reform all faults. It is necessary to form a new life and not delay!
THE THIRD LESSON:
WAYS TO CULTIVATE GOODNESS
I Ching, the Book of Changes explains that, “Families who perform good deeds will accumulate pros-
perity which can outlast many generations". Let me give an example. Once there was a family by the name of Yan. Before they agreed to give their daughter in marriage to the man who later became Con-
fucius‟ father, they looked into the past deeds of the family. After finding the family to be one that practiced kindness and accumulated virtues, the Yan family felt assured that their daughter would be marrying into a family that would be prosperous with outstanding descendants.
Confucius had once praised Shun on his filial piety, saying, “Due to his great filial piety and sincerity, Shun could deeply move even his ancestors to accept his offering. His accumulation of merits and good fortune would last for many, many generations.” These sayings were later proven true by history. Now I will show in some true accounts that merits can be attained through performing good deeds. In Fujian province, there was a prominent man named Rong Yang who held a position in the imperial court as the Emperor‟s teacher. His ancestors were boat people who made a living by helping people cross the river. Once, there was a storm, which lasted so long that fierce flooding washed away all the houses. People, animals and belongings were carried downriver by the current. Other boaters took ad-vantage of the situation and strove to collect the floating belongings. Only Rong Yang‟s grandfather and great grandfather took interest in rescuing the drowning people. They did not take any of the goods that floated by. The other boaters all laughed and thought them to be very foolish. Later, when Rong Yang‟s father was born, the Yang family gradually became wealthy.
One day a heavenly person manifested as a Taoist monk came to the Yang family. He told them that their ancestors had accumulated much hidden merit. Consequently, their descendants would enjoy wealth and prominence. He said that there was a special place where they could build their ancestral tomb. So, they followed the Taoist‟s suggestion. Today it is called the White Hare Grave. Shortly after, Rong Yang was born. He passed the imperial examination when he was only twenty years old and later received the imperial appointment of Master. The Emperor even bestowed his grandfather and great grandfather with the same imperial honors. Today, his many virtuous and prosperous descendants are still very prominent.
Zi-Cheng Yang, from the county of Yin in Zhejiang province, is another example. Zi-Cheng worked as a member of the staff of the county courthouse. He was kind and humane, fair and law-abiding. Once, the county magistrate punished a criminal by beating him until his blood spilled out onto the ground. The magistrate‟s anger did not subside and as he was about to continue, Zi-Cheng knelt and pleaded with him to stop beating the prisoner. The magistrate said, “It is all right for you to plead, but how can I not be angry when this person has broken the law!" Zi-Cheng replied that when those in a position of leadership in the government do not follow the proper path, ordinary people would lose their way. Once we realize this, we should feel sorrow rather than joy. And if we should not feel joy, then how could we feel anger? Thus, a case like this called for more understanding. The magistrate was touched by Zi-Cheng‟s speech and ceased the beating.
Although Zi-Cheng came from a very poor family, he never took any bribes. If the prisoners were short of food, he would always take food from his own home even if it meant going hungry himself. One day, several new prisoners needed feeding. Zi-Cheng‟s home was short of food. If he gave them
what he had then his family would go hungry. But, if he kept the food for his family then the prisoners would go hungry. He felt that the prisoners needed the food more than his family did. A deplorable situation. He discussed it with his wife who asked where the prisoners came from. Zi-Cheng answered that they were from Hangzhow. They had to tolerate hunger along the way. So Zi-Cheng and his wife cooked their rice and shared it with the prisoners.
Later, Zi-Cheng had two sons. The elder‟s name was Shou-Chen and the younger was named Shou-
Zhi. Both sons became very prominent and held important government positions. His eldest grandson became Vice Minister of the Ministry of Justice. His second grandson was a member of the government staff in Sichuan Province. They were both prominent. Today, the government official, Chu-Ting Yang, who is known for his virtuous deeds, is also their descendent.
Here is another true example that happened during the Zheng-Tong period during the time of Empe-ror Ying-Zong. Once, a group of rebels appeared in Fujian Province. Many intellectuals joined them.