Liaofan’s Third Lesson – The Ways to Cultivate Goodness – Part 5

In the early 1900s, the Chinese government abolished Chinese classics education. At the time, many wise and virtuous people felt deep sadness. The bad seeds that were planted then are now bearing fruit. If even after we have tasted the bad fruits we are still not awakened, then we are lost. This way of thinking can destroy countries and races. The result of our abolishing Chinese classics education is the destruction of the proper teachings! For if Confucian and Taoist teachings cannot be safeguarded then Mahayana Buddhism cannot be propagated. Buddhism has flourished for 2000 years in China because it was based on the foundation of Confucianism and Taoism. But today we are digging away the roots and destroying the foundation. If this continues, the teachings of the Buddha will become mere empty words.

We can propagate and pass on the proper teachings and help others to learn their value. In this way, we can repay our gratitude to the Buddha. We should do our best and encourage others to do so as well.

We need to help propagate proper teachings such as those of Confucius and the Buddha, and to encourage others to do so as well. In this way, we will benefit others and repay our gratitude to the Buddha. To accomplish this, we need to do two things. First, we need to help train Dharma repositories who can properly propagate the teachings. Second, we need to establish Buddhist centers to teach others and to allow them to have a good educational environment for both learning and practicing. Today, few people are propagating the Dharma, so instead of relying on others, we need to do this ourselves.

We establish a Buddhist center in the hope of providing the opportunity for more people to encounter and learn Buddhism. Today, the best way to do this is with television and the Internet as they have the potential to bring Buddhism into so many homes. We can invite caring teachers to choose the sutras that will benefit society the most and let them take turns lecturing. Since Mahayana Buddhism is built on the foundation of Confucianism and Taoism, we can lecture first on the Four Books. Next, we lecture on Mahayana Buddhism.

In this way, people will be able to thoroughly absorb and digest the teachings; thus, preventing them from becoming mere empty words. So, if we truly wish to help Buddhism flourish, it will be helpful to learn about the Chinese classics such as the teachings of Confucius. We begin by nurturing Dharma repositories and establish Buddhist centers.

Establishing such a center does not mean spending a large amount of money on a building that may result in endless squabbles and conflicts once it is completed. When this happens, the effort and expenditure will become meaningless. We need to understand that once be begin to learn and practice Buddhism, and then attain wisdom, we will realize that wealth is like a puff of smoke, a fleeting cloud, for no matter how much wealth we have, it is only something to see. Think about it, is the money we keep in our homes really ours? If it were, we would be able to keep it instead of passing it to someone else. And yet, when we receive money, we pass it on. It was ours for a very short time. Thus, we should not place much importance on wealth.

A fellow Buddhist told Master Chin king once that after he made a million dollars in the stock market, he immediately lost it. The Master asked him why he had not listened to Liaofan’s Four Lessons. Losing something means that we were not supposed to have it, so there is no need to worry. We should neither be happy when we gain something not unhappy when we lose it. To do so is a sad waste of time. Those who understand this and possess wisdom should instead use their precious time to chant a Buddha’s name. We need to understand the principles. If we are diligent in our practice and propagate the teachings to help others, we will gain infinite merits. Then, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will praise us.

What does “respecting our elders” mean? It is to make an extra effort to be attentive to and respectful of parents, older siblings, leaders, superiors, elders and those of great virtue and learning. When taking care of our parents at home, we are to do so gently with loving hearts and obliging demeanors. We should not raise our voice but maintain a peaceful bearing. As we cultivate these virtues, they will become a part of us and we will change into a gentle-hearted person. This is the way we can touch the hearts of heaven.

In ancient China, those who taught children placed great importance on basic education. They taught filial piety, respect, sincerity, for these are the outlines of the teachings. Thus, the child is the father of the man, for the character nurtured in our own childhood will become our nature when we are grown. This provides the foundation for the nurturing of sages and virtuous people who will provide for a moral society and a wisely governed country.

Since ancient times, this has been the Chinese social tradition. The Chinese say that education is essential in establishing a new government, training its leaders and governing its people. If the basic quality of education is not clearly recognized and implemented, incorrect views can destroy the entire culture, country and even its people! Even if some had selfish intentions, their wrongdoings were probably limited. They would have only bent the rules only so much before they started feeling regretful. Today, sexual misconduct, wrongdoings, even criminal acts are all viewed as matter of fact. We have lost our sense of morality and our conscience. And this is deeply troubling because all that separates us from animals is a good heart.

Hopefully, fellow Buddhists will realize that sincerity and respect are the gateway to and the foundation for practicing Buddhism. Sincerity and respect are cultivated within our family. At home, we are filial to our parents and respectful of our elders and siblings. Accomplishing this will enable us to be in accordance with superiors and to be diligent and dependable in meeting our responsibilities as individuals, members of society and as citizens. As Liaofan said, habits become our nature. Once a good habit is formed, our hearts will be gentle and this will touch the heart of heaven, for when we are peaceful, kind and agreeable, we will move the beings and spirits of heaven and earth.

Today, we have forgotten the ethical teachings of human relationships and so we are no longer honorable. Instead, most people are mired in greed, anger, ignorance and arrogance. Malevolent spirits, beings and demons have descended. Why? Our improper thinking has formed a connection with them so naturally Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will not come. Humans have already been committing wrongdoings, but now there are malevolent spirits and demons creating chaos as well.

This is why our world will have disasters of increasing severity and frequency and when this happens, there may be many deaths. Only when we personally experience these grave occurrences, will we be awakened from delusion and improper views, regret our wrongdoings and return to the proper path. It is truly regrettable that “small” disasters cannot bring this about; it will take a major disaster to awaken us. This is unavoidable.

We need to study history and view the chaos in the world from a historian’s viewpoint so as to realize the source of good occurrences as well as disasters. This will enable us to detect the occurrences of any effects due to the law of causality before they happen. Knowing this, we will know the future. The results that we are currently seeing come from causes created decades ago and the results of the causes that we are now repeatedly creating will be seen in two to three decades.

Previously, the seeds that were planted might have taken seven or eight decades to mature, but today, the escalation of these bad causes is resulting in a shortening of the maturity period and an increase in magnitude. This is horrifying! Good causes will always result in good consequences and bad causes will always result in bad consequences. The principle of cause and effect is correct and inevitable.

When working for our superiors or the government, we should follow the rules and not do as we please just because our superiors do not know what we are doing.

Before we convict someone of a crime, regardless of whether the crime is serious or not, we should investigate carefully and be just. We should not abuse power or be cruel because our superiors do not know what we are doing. When with our supervisor, we should show him or her the same respect as if we were facing the heavens. As the proverb says, “This is the correct behavior handed down from our ancestors.” It had an important bearing on our hidden virtues. Look at all the families who practiced loyalty and filial piety. Their descendants prospered for a long time and had bright futures. We can follow their example and practice with caution.

A person who cultivates the virtues of loyalty and filial piety will have descendants to last for a long time, but today, parents and children are more like companions. Children no longer respect their parents or feel gratitude for all that they have done. This is destroying moral principles. Confucianism and Taoism teach us that ethical principles are the nature of virtue and a close examination of Buddhism will show that it is the revelation of the virtuous nature. Sages and virtuous people do not experience selfishness, so they have revealed their virtuous nature.

 

Confucianism is also the revelation of our virtuous true nature. When this true nature is revealed, it will be the same as that of Confucius. It is the same as light. When another’s lights up, mine does as well. One light intermingling with another light to become one is the revelation of the true nature. This is true greatness, is truly inconceivable and is the perfect and virtuous nature.

Filial piety and respect are the tools we use to reveal our virtuous true nature to become enlightened. In Buddhism, it is said that the most important requirement for uncovering our true nature is to give rise to the Bodhi mind. The same is true for Confucianism for it also teaches us to practice the sincere and virtuous mind. We need to honestly interact with others and circumstances with filialty, respect and sincerity. To do things quietly by ourselves is the genuine way to practice goodness and accumulate merits. As Liaofan said, filial piety and respect have an important bearing on our hidden virtues.

The reality of causality can be witnessed throughout history. Do not think that others will not know what to think or do. Other people may not know what we think or do. Other people may not know, but the beings and spirits of heaven and earth and all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will know.

Liaofan told us earlier that to reform and correct our faults, we need the shameful heart, the fearful heart and the determined, courageous heart. To become a sage, a virtuous person, a Bodhisattva, or a Buddha, we simply need to truly give rise to these three hearts to realize our goals in this lifetime.

What does “loving and cherishing all living things” mean? A compassionate heart makes a person. A person seeking the virtues of loving-kindness and compassion cultivates his or her heart of compassion. A person who wants to accumulate merits also cultivates a compassionate heart.

A compassionate heart cares for al beings and things. When we see animals suffering, we naturally feel sympathy for them. Do we all have this heart? Yes, everyone does. If we shed tears while watching a sad movie, this is the compassionate heart. We are empathetic even when we know that the movie is not real! So, it goes without saying that when we see real people or animals suffering, we will try to help them.

Not only do human beings possess the heart of compassion, animals do too. This is truly the virtuous original nature. The nature of animals is no different from ours, but because they are even more deeply deluded than we are, they have been born as animals. All the beings in the Ten Dharma Realms share the same true nature. This is why the Buddha, in the Mahayana sutras, spoke of “unconditional great compassion and the kindness of realizing that we are one entity.”

The compassionate heart is the heart of great loving-kindness and is the revelation of the true nature. It is what a person in search of the virtues of compassion and the accumulation of virtues is seeking. It is broadening the heart to love and care for others, to truly be able to love all beings and objects, and to do our best to help them.

It is stated in the Book of Rites: “In January, when most animals bear their young, females of the species are not to be used for sacrificial purposes.”

In the past, three animals were used in major sacrificial ceremonies: cows, sheep and pigs. Out of compassion, females were not used for offerings that were made in the spring, because if the female animal was pregnant, two lives would have been taken.

Mencius once said: “An honorable person will not go near the kitchen.” This is to protect a compassionate heart.

The purpose of Mencius saying this is the same as that of the Buddha teaching of the “three pure meats.” We do not eat animals if we saw or heard the killing or if the animal was killed for us.

It was the custom in India to go from house to house accepting food offerings and to eat whatever was provided: no discrimination, attachments or preferences. To accept and eat whatever is offered is true compassion according with conditions and not seeking affinities.

When the Dharma masters were invited to China, the Chinese viewed the practice of asking for food as begging. It would have been inappropriate to tell the masters to go out and beg for food, so instead, they were offered food in the palaces. The practice of going out to ask for food never really took hold in China. However, the three pure meats rule was always observed when offering food to the Dharma masters.

Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty initially advocated vegetarianism for Buddhists. Today, most Chinese practitioners, whether they are monastics or lay people, are vegetarians. However, the tradition of Buddhism is to practice the three pure meats rule and not vegetarianism. Vegetarianism protects nature as well as the compassionate heart. It is the practice of loving-kindness for all beings and things. When we understand that it is also the best and healthiest food, we will see that it is worth our efforts to advocate its practice.

Mencius taught us not to go near a kitchen, so that we will not see or hear killing and will be more at ease when eating. But, the compassionate heart would still be uneasy. It is best to not eat the flesh of living beings, especially today when we often hear of meat containing toxins that cause strange diseases. Ancient people said that illness enters through the mouth. Mr. Li Bingnan often sighed as he said that people were taking poison at all three meals. How can we not get sick!

Our ancestors did not eat meat under four circumstances: if they heard the killing, saw the killing, had the animal killed or raised the animal themselves. If we cannot yet stop eating meat, we can still follow these four guidelines. In this way, we are gradually increasing our compassion. We should not only refrain from killing any animals, but insects as well, for they are also living creatures.

Man makes silk from the cocoons of silkworms that have to be boiled in water with the silkworms inside. When we cultivate the land for farming, how many insects have to be killed? We need to be aware of the cost in lives involved in our food and clothing. We kill to provide for ourselves so to waste food and clothing is as serious an offense as killing.

This speaks of the three pure meats with an additional rule that monastics may not raise animals. To raise, kill and eat animals is truly unacceptable. If we cannot become vegetarian, we can practice the three pure meats and the four circumstantial meats rules to cultivate compassionate hearts.

Our life spans in this world are short, only a few decades long; yet, in order to nurture ourselves we kill others. We are steeped in debt to all beings, regardless of whether we have harmed them intentionally or unintentionally. Imagine how much negative karma we have created! This is why the Buddha said: “If negative karma had shape and volume, then only the entire universe could not contain it.” Only when we realize that we have an inconceivable amount of karmic obstacles, will we become more careful. How can we be responsible for all living beings between heaven and earth? Do not kill, be careful and do not waste anything.

Modern people advocate consumption by saying that if people do not spend money then factories would close and economies would collapse. Do you believe this? If Master Zhongfeng heard this, he would say “Not necessarily.” Actually, this is incorrect for many countries that promote consumption and thus waste, are experiencing declining economies.

Only through thrift will people and our world become wealthy, prosperous and peaceful. If no one saves money, how can countries become prosperous and strong, and citizens have stable lives? When we have to depend on the country for financial aid and thus increase its financial problems. If however, we are in the habit of saving, then even if we became unemployed or suffer adversities, we can still maintain ourselves. Being aware of this, we will value our resources and strengths.

How often have we unknowingly harmed or stepped on a living creature? We should do our best to prevent this from happening again. An ancient great poet once wrote: “For love of the mice, we often leave them some rice and in pitying the moth, we will not light the lamp.” This is compassion!

Today, most people would strongly disagree with this. How can we “love mice”? They are harmful to us and must be exterminated. Most people do not understand. When we kill mice, they will seek revenge and this cycle of revenge will continue, growing worse each time. Killing solves nothing. Are there no other solutions? There is no such thing as walking away unpunished from a murder or not repaying our debts. By understanding that cause and effect connects our past, present and future lives, we will never again harm any living beings. This is how we attain peace of mind. Only true sincerity, purity and compassion can solve or seemingly insurmountable problems.

I cannot begin to talk of all the infinite types of goodness. If we can expand the ten previous categories, we can make them into a multitude of good deeds and virtues.

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