Liaofan’s First Lesson – Learning to Change Destiny – Part 2

The sutras tell us “cause and effect are linked through the past, present and future.” What we undergo in this lifetime are the consequences of what we have done in our previous lifetimes, while what we do now will determine what we undergo in our future lifetimes. If we cultivate diligently, we need not wait until future lifetimes to reap our rewards; instead, we may see our deeds bear fruit in this lifetime!

I Ching, the Book of Changes, was written to help people accrue good fortune and to avoid adversity. The I Ching is considered by many to be the earliest philosophy book in ancient China and teaches people to become sages and virtuous people. It accomplished this through mathematics and the use of 64 hexagrams of whole and broken lines representing all possible combinations of broken and unbroken lines. There are 384 possible predictions. The book uses mathematics to determine the natural course of cause and effect.

What Master Yungu said regarding the surpassing of mathematics is where the techniques of the I Ching fail. The I Ching works well with constants, but although it understands that there are variables, it fails to work with them. This teaches us to accumulate merits and to avoid bad deeds. One virtuous thought is a plus and one negative thought is a minus. So, every day is simply a matter of addition and subtraction, multiplication and division. If the margin of change is not too much, others can foretell our destinies with a reasonable degree of accuracy. This is how Mr. Kong foretold Liaofan’s destiny.

A constant is the cause. A variable is the condition. The key to changing destiny is determined by the condition and this is what Buddhism stresses. “All the infinite creations in heaven and on earth arise from conditions.” All existing things arise from the condition, which is a variable. By controlling this variable, we can change destiny.

We know that those who wrote the I Ching understood the constant that is the cause in this world and throughout the universe. They also knew that there is a variable that is the condition. By controlling this variable on a small scale, we can change our own destiny and on a larger scale, we can pursue lasting stability and peace for our world.

The I Ching was intended to teach us how to obtain happiness, world peace and stability; to change our destinies by accumulating merit and virtue. To do this, we first need to regret and reform.

The reason Liaofan was able to change his destiny was due to his good roots and good fortune, thus enabling him to believe in good advice. His meeting with Master Yungu was the ripening of the appropriate conditions.

Mr. You told us in his commentary: “One who hears good advice from sages and slanders them has committed a bad deed; doubt is on of the fundamental afflictions.” We will benefit and improve if we believe in the teachings, but if we do not, then we will miss these remarkable benefits. This is why we say that doubt is one of the six fundamental afflictions of greed, anger, ignorance, doubt and deviated views.

We next read in the commentary: “It is a serious mistake to fear that others will know our misdeeds.” If we conceal our faults, they will increase at an alarming rate. If we are smart, we will let them be known. Then, when we are criticized and corrected, our karmic obstacles will be gradually eradicated. If others speak about our mistakes, be grateful even if we have nor done what they say we did, for to be wrongly accused by others will also eradicate our karmic obstacles. There is no need to refute or defend ourselves in the face of underserved accusations. When we are defensive, others will not want to help us correct our faults. Then the offense will become even more serious.

Liaofan sought to pass the imperial examinations although this was not destined for him. He vowed to complete 3000 meritorious deeds to show his gratitude. To gain what we wish for when it has not been destined is truly to have sought and gained.

In the Pure Land School, we are taught to chant “Amituofo.” Chanting helps us uncover our pure minds to eradicate wandering thoughts. If we chant “Amituofo” without one single thought, it will be effective. It would be just like sending a fax to Buddha Amitabba and having him receive it. But, if we add just one wandering thought, then the message will not go through. As we continue to chant over a long period of time, our minds will become pure, or at least our wandering thoughts will be suppressed.

Buddhism is the ultimate perfect wisdom; thus, if we are able to end our erroneous ways, practice goodness, and cultivate purity of mind, then in due time whatever we seek will be attained.

“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 receive a response.”

When we seek something from the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or the beings of heaven or earth, we need to do so without having any thoughts for our seeking to be effective. To achieve this, our minds need to be result pure, without any wandering thoughts. This is to have the mind of sincerity, purity and respect. Only when we appeal to the enlightened ones using the mind of utmost sincerity will be attain what we wish for.

If we are content with the way things are, we can settle down and get on with our work. It is said: “If the rich were content to be rich and the poor were content to be poor,” then society would be stable, the world would be peaceful, and everyone would be happy. What is happy? Not having any wandering thoughts, worries or afflictions. If a person in poverty was able to understand that his or her condition was a matter of destiny, the he or she would also be contented.

A good example of this occurred in the early part of the 20th century. A man in a village in Jiangsu province begged for food during the day and slept in old deserted temples at night. In this way, he was contented.

His son, after experiencing business success, became rich and influential but then found himself being admonished. “How can you be such an unfilial son? You have great wealth but you let your father continue to beg for his food?” The son felt ashamed after hearing this and sent people to search everywhere for his father and brought him home to care for him. But, after a month of living in his son’s home, the father slipped out to resume his life as a beggar.

People asked his father: “Wouldn’t it be better for you to enjoy good fortune at your son’s home?” He replied: “I was very uncomfortable there! Now, in the daytime I can travel anywhere I want and enjoy visiting beautiful scenery. At night, I can make any place my home. There is nothing more joyful than to live as freely as this. To have to remain at home is suffering for me!”

He was contented with his condition so he could let go and attain true liberation. He was not all affected by the five desires of wealth, lust, fame, food and sleep. Rather, he was happy and had purity of mind. He preferred to be on the sidelines, regarding this world as a play, while everybody else was busy pursuing prestige and wealth.

This was no ordinary person, but a model of wisdom and contentment. Most people pursue a happy and fulfilling life, not realizing that these are not necessarily synonymous with wealth or social position. Therefore, we need to understand destiny, need to be able to accord with the wishes of sentient beings and be joyful over other’s meritorious deeds. Only in this was will our lives be happy and fulfilling.

True happiness is not achievable without great knowledge and effort in practice. We can now clearly see that only awakened people can settle their minds and re-create their destinies. it is pointless to behave immorally and to become increasingly deluded. Thus, the Buddha often referred to those who were deluded as “pitiable beings.”

“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 cultivating, we need to be aware of our faults and resolve to correct them as if we were curing a sickness.”

We cultivate while waiting for destiny to be created; however, this is not accomplished overnight. It takes a long time. We need to cease our laziness, and confidentiality and diligently strive to improve. We need to be awakened and not deluded, to do what is proper and not deviated. In time, we will attain the desired result. Cultivation is correcting our faults in the three karmas of improper thoughts, words and deeds and adopting whatever ways are necessary to remedy these faults.

“While waiting, let go of the thought of desiring something that we are not supposed to have and the thought of wishing for a reward.”

It is a wandering thought to hope for an early harvest of rewards for our goodness, for such thinking can create obstacles. We are only to ask about the cultivation, not the harvest. As long as we diligently cultivate, the harvest will naturally follow; why bother to constantly seek it? This is the true way of cultivation: to not seek anything. Just concentrate on ending improper behavior and cultivating goodness; eventually, we will obtain whatever we desire.

When we seek, our gains are limited, for most likely we will only receive what we request, as our cultivation of virtues is not in accordance with our virtuous natures. Without seeking, everything is a manifestation of and in accordance with our virtuous nature.

Actually, what Liaofan achieved was cultivated virtues. It was not yet virtuous nature, because he still sought. Initially, he sought scholarly honor and official rank, then, he sought children. Whatever he sought was accomplished. If he had not had one thought of a request, if he had solely cultivated and accumulated virtues, everything would have turned out perfectly. He did not seek longevity and yet he lived longer that destined. He was supposed to die at the age of 53, but lived to 74!

We will benefit if we cease our request and affinity seeking, and only have sensible wished like those in which we ask that our lives be smooth, that we have enough to eat, a safe place to live, and adequate clothing. It is enough to live simply and comfortably with minimal expenses in a small house. But most people want to possess luxuries and to impress others, not knowing the price they have to pay for those extravagances. They lose more than they gain. If instead, we share our good fortune with others then our good fortune is the accumulation of merits.

Learning and practice of wisdom are true knowledge. Innate nature is “returning to the original state.”  This revelation of our original true nature is not the state of an ordinary being. The original state is true happiness for it is to be filled with the Dharma bliss and to truly abandon suffering for happiness. This is what awakened people seek.

The Buddha often spoke of the “original nature as it is.” Pure Land practitioners call this the true and perfect achievements of “One Mind Undisturbed.” It is the goal of our practice. It is to reach the attainment of “to not recite when reciting and to recite when not reciting.” This is often explained as “To  not be attached to the act of chanting; thus, to not chant when chanting and to chant when chanting.”

Liaofan was now able to understand everything in regards to worldly matters and was awakened. He truly knew that only the individual could change and re-create his or her own destiny. He understood the principles and methods, and knew that from then on he did not have to passively accept his destiny because it was not fixed.

After his resolution to reform, his feelings towards everything changes. From that point on until the end of his life, he was constantly aware of his thoughts and behavior, always alert, and no longer deluded.

In the past, he had been unrestrained, doing things as he pleased, drifting aimlessly through each day. How did he live his life? He had no idea for he had no direction or goal. To live this way is to be bound by fate, unable to re-create a bright future.

After reforming, he found himself being naturally cautious and careful in thought, speech and behavior. In other words, after turning over a new leaf, his beliefs and views regarding life and the universe changed dramatically. Previously, he had thought that everything was bound by fate. But, now he knew that he could recreate destiny and thus, he became determined and optimistic.

Even when we are alone, when no one else can see us, we still need to restrain ourselves and not give rise to a single improper thought. In so doing, we will truly achieve self-discipline and control. As Confucius said, a decent person is cautious even when alone. Living by ourselves, we can still be disciplined and not self-indulgent. In this way, we will truly be cultivating. Ordinary people constantly indulge themselves without any proper restraint. When in pubic, they may appear careful and self-restrained, but when alone they again do as they please.

This is one of the reasons why monasteries of the oast had many practioners sharing one room. If there was only one person in a room, he or she would be unable to achieve in cultivation. With more than ten people in a room, everyone will behave well at all times. The purpose of this was to force people to discipline themselves.

Today, vey few people are willing to restrain themselves, but are intent on enjoying comfort. Fine! We can enjoy ourselves in this life and then we can also leisurely enjoy ourselves in the Three Bad Paths (animals, hungry ghosts and hells) in the upcoming life, having not succeeded on the path to enlightenment!

It is wrong for us to be unwilling to live with or get along with someone. Liaofan discovered his own faults and sincerely corrected them. But, in dealing with our own faults, we continuously excuse ourselves instead of correcting them. When we do this, how can we hope to succeed in our cultivation?

To live harmoniously in a group, it is necessary to abide by the Six Harmonies (share the same viewpoints or goals, observe the same precepts, live and practice together harmoniously, do not quarrel, experience the inner peace and happiness from practicing together harmoniously and sharing benefits harmoniously) to correct our faults and bad habits, and to learn to get along with others. Liaofan found that he no longer minded when he encountered those who disliked or even slandered him. He could patiently bear their insults with a peaceful mind and no longer felt compelled to quarrel with them. His mind had become calm, and unlike before, when he was flighty and impatient, unable to endure the slightest inconvenience or wrong.

Here we can see his improvement from cultivation. Therefore, a true Buddhist practitioner needs to learn how to get along with everybody regardless of whether they are enlightened beings or demons or ghosts. We need to find our inner peace and to hold on to it, regardless of the environment or circumstances.

Today, when we interact with others and with circumstances, are we cultivating purity of mind under favorable to adverse conditions? If we are not cultivating purity of mind, then we are not properly practicing Buddhism and will not benefit, for it has become an academic pursuit. Even if we spend everyday reading the sutras and become extremely articulate in explaining them, our afflictions will still increase. In this way, we will end up in the Three Bad Paths (animals, hungry ghosts and hells). This is obviously wrong!

True practitioners do not attach words, to what has been said, specified or thought. They use their intuition. They seek purity of mind, the nondiscriminatory true mind that is our original true nature. They seek Supreme Perfect Enlightenment.

If we still have discriminatory thoughts and attachments, then we are unable to achieve constant mindfulness. Sever these discriminatory thoughts and attachments, and we will be able to achieve constant mindfulness. This is true cultivation.

We should not expect any reward when we help others, for it is our responsibility to do so. Confucius and other sages taught us the five human relationships and ten moral responsibilities. The five human relationships, which are founded on traditional moral principles, include those between husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, friends and political leaders and the public.

Practicing what we ought to is a virtue of our natures. It is naturally within our responsibility as parents to be protective, to care and guide our children. It is naturally within our responsibility as parents to be protective, to care for and guide our children. It is naturally within our responsibility as children to be filial, to honor and respect our parents. Whether as siblings or friends, all should be respectful towards one another. Friends should be trustworthy, honest and reliable for we are naturally obligated to be so. And all of us should be mutually caring, respectful, and helpful to each other.

If we question whether helping another will adversely affect us, then our thoughts and actions are impure, and we will be unable to wholeheartedly assist others. From this,, we know that although we may do kinds deeds, we still have not done enough.

Confucius taught of the virtue in “assisting others in achieving goodness” and that goodness is a virtue. When we find others practicing goodness, we need to help them to accomplish their goal. Why? A good deed can benefit the local community and even the whole society.

Correcting our faults to begin anew is not something readily accomplished, but requires time and continuous effort. In the beginning stages, difficulties are unavoidable. To behave in a courteous manner while being careless and thoughtless in speech is a bad habit. Since ancient times, speech is considered the source of both good fortune and misfortune, so we need to be constantly aware of our speech.

We need to understand the spirit and the profound meaning behind what we are taught, not just do something for the sake of doing it. As for the practice of giving, there are many kinds, including the giving of wealth, teaching and fearlessness.

It is easy to accumulate merits and just as easy to commit wrong doings. If a public policy does not benefit people, but proves harmful, this act will become ten thousand offenses. Good fortune or misfortune depends on our thoughts. The higher our position, the greater are the possibilities for creating good fortune or misfortune. For example, a leader of a country can implement one policy, which if it proves beneficial to all citizens will actually accomplish thousands, even millions of good deeds. On the other hand, if the leader implements a policy that proves harmful, then he or she will have committed thousands, even millions of bad deeds.

As most people’s opportunities are more limited, they are restricted in the good or bad they can do. If a person has status, and thus has the opportunity, he or she needs to be cautious in his or her every action. By cultivating good deeds, he or she will have a bright future. To do otherwise will ensure that he or she will fall into the Three Bad Paths (animals, hungry ghosts or hell) to suffer there. Why? Due to his or her high status, the results from that person’s actions are far-reaching than those of average citizens.

When we give rise to thoughts, all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and spirits in heaven and earth know them, Since the true mind has no limit or boundary, when we do even the slightest good deed, if this one thought arises from our true nature it will accord with the true mind. Then, no matter how small the deed, the result will benefit the entire universe. Liaofan had yet to reach this state of mind. He only benefited the public in the phenomenal aspect.

When we do a good deed with a sincere heart, this deed can indeed be worth the merits of ten thousand good deeds. Master Huanyu told Liaofan that his act of reducing the taxes in the county had relieved the suffering of heavy taxes on all the farmers and had benefited more than ten thousand people. However, Liaofan had yet to understand this, as his completion of the ten thousand good deeds was done from the phenomenal aspect. If he had done so from his true nature, that is if he had cultivated from his true mind, then that one good deed would not have been worth just the merits of then ten thousand but of innumerable good deeds!

If we see someone in need and unreservedly give him on dollar, then the merit of this accords with our true nature because that that time we did not have differentiating thoughts of others and us. We did not distinguish between receiver and donor. We were not attached. In this way, the merits from giving one dollar are infinite for they are uncovering of our virtuous natures.

The merit from giving millions of dollars may be less than that of one dollar sincerely given. Why? We may have given this money from our Eight Consciousness. This mind of discriminatory thoughts and attachments is limited and thus, we are unable to break through this obstacle of discrimination.

The reason why our merits cannot compare with those of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is the differences in our minds, in our intentions. The environment changes according to the mind. As ordinary people, we are very narrow minded; thus, no matter how much good fortune or how many merits we cultivate, we are bound by our discriminatory thoughts and attachments. But these are no longer bind Bodhisattvas and Arhats. even when they perform a small deed, their merits are infinite. In understanding this principle, our every thought will be perfect and our merits and virtues will be infinite. Liaofan could not yet even image this state of mind. So, he practiced from the aspect of phenomena, and thus, he benefited only ten thousand people.

Mr. Kong predicted that I would die at the age of 53. However, I survived that year without illness although I did not ask the heavens for a longer life. Now I am 69.

Liaofan was destined to die at the age of 53. It was an extremely accurate prediction. After encountering a sever misfortune, he would die in his home on the 14th day of the 8th month between 1 and 3 o’clock in the morning. Liaofan wrote his book at the age of 69. He had not sought to live beyond 53 but he passed that year in good health without encountering any severe misfortune.

Obviously, the issues of birth and death, and of long life, are the utmost importance in our lives. If long life can be sought, what is there that cannot be sought? Without long life, it would be difficult to seek the attainment and enjoyment of fame, wealth, prestige and children. This seeking has to be done properly, in accordance with the teachings, from the mind and heart of utmost sincerity. In this way, everything can be attained.

If we seek from outside of ourselves, then as Master Yungu said, we would lose from both within and without. Everything that is properly and sincerely sought is attainable, whether we are Buddhists seeking good fortune, long lives and rebirth into the Pure Land or others seeking good fortune, long lives and rebirth into heaven. Indeed, we can seek to attain more good fortune, an even longer life, and grandchildren. Nothing is unattainable. We have seen that Liaofan gained good fortune, long life and children to totally surpass the constant in his destiny. These were what he had gained through cultivation, not because they were destined.

The Book of History explains that destiny exists but is difficult to be believed by most people because it is changeable. Accounts of Request and Response further explains: “Neither misfortune nor good fortune will come without reasons and conditions; we incur them.” In other words, they are retributions from our past actions.

“Destiny is not set, but is created and determined by ourselves.” All this true.

It is said in Buddhism that “Nothing can be carried over to the next life except our karma.” These are critical words of caution. Knowing that our karma will follow us like a shadow, we need to be diligent in cultivating good deeds and not to carry our negative karma with us, for to do so will lead us into the Three Bad Paths. Good karma will lead us to be reborn into the Three Good Paths. And pure karma from Constant Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha will lead us to be reborn into the Western Pure Land. From this, it is clear what we need go do in this life. We need to broaden our perceptions and expand our thinking instead of being concerned with trivialities or calculating our gains and losses. Life is very short. It would be of tremendous merit, if in this life we were to do more goodness, to benefit more people.

We need to believe in the teachings of sages and virtuous people, to know that our destinies are within our control and that we can re-create our futures to be bright and splendid.

Even when everything is going smoothly, we need to remember the difficult time. In this way, when things are going our way we will remain cautious. Today, even when we have more than enough food and clothing, we need to be thrifty. If we constantly do this when we have wealth and prestige, then we will be able to improve both our moral and caring conduct.

We need to understand that great good fortune is that which we share with others for in this way our ensuring good fortune will become inexhaustible.

Being humble and feeling that we are not knowledgeable enough will help to eradicate our arrogance. Arrogance is one of the five major afflictions and is related to the other four of greed, anger, ignorance and doubt. We can practice humility to begin to eradicate afflictions. If we do so completely, we will be able to uncover our virtuous natures ad to truly achieve in our cultivation of merits.

Liaofan gives us an important key to recreating destiny. Out thoughts will provide the guidelines for increasing our virtues and morality and for developing good deeds.

In today’s society, what is the driving force behind hard work? Wealth, fame and prestige. Most people will do whatever is necessary to acquire these. If there were no wealth tp gain, how many would be willing to work so hard? Very few! In the past, the driving force behind people’s hard work was filial piety. In their mindfulness of ancestors and parents, they did their best to accumulate merits and virtues on their behalf and to honor them. This driving force is much worthier and nobler than that of wealth, fame and prestige! This has been the tradition of Chinese culture and Confucian teaching for several thousands of years.

Today, the most urgent need is revising and developing the education of morality.

In Confucian teachings, the issue of accountability refers to the five human relationships including those between husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, friends and political leaders and the public. We need to fulfill our responsibilities towards society and others earnestly and diligently in order to create good fortune for our family and society.

Awakening – the beginning of enlightenment – is being able to detect our faults daily. As we discover our faults daily, we need to correct them. This is cultivation.

To know our faults daily is to awaken daily. Once we discover a fault, we sincerely correct it; this is how build our strength of cultivation. We need not do much. If we were to find and correct one fault a day then we would become a sage or virtuous person in three years.

As practioners who chant the Buddhas name, if we are unable to correct one fault daily and be mindful of Buddha Amitabha, then in three year’s time we will be reborn into either the high or middle levels of the Pure Land. This is the best way to cultivate to become a Buddha. The questions is whether we are willing to do so earnestly. We are fooling ourselves if we are unable to find one fault daily. In failing to know them, we will fail to correct them. How can we hope to improve in this way? When there is no improvement, there is regression. To regard ourselves as infallible and that everything we do is correct is the most horrible way to live.

Liaofan carefully wrote down the principles and methods the master has taught him in changing his destiny and passed them on to his so, hoping that he too would cultivate following this method. Liaofan had received remarkable results from this practice and thus firmly believed in all the principles and methods that the master had taught.

We need to be very familiar with Master Yungu’s teachings, to ponder and appfreciate them. When we are constantly mindful of the teachings, we will savor them, use them as a basis for our behavior and practice them diligently. Do not waste this lifetime.

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