Liao Fan wanted to teach his son the principles about why things happen and how to change them. Specifically, he wanted his son to:
- Practice doing goodness
- Eliminate his bad behaviors
- Re-create and control his destiny and not be bound by it
Everyone and everything has a set destiny. This is due to the law of causality. Whenever we give rise to a cause, be it a thought, word or act, a result that is set in destiny will follow.
Our lives are already destined; everything is destined. Each and every day of our lives has already been pre-determined. From the moment we are born to the moment we die, everything we do has already been decided. Regardless of how we scheme or plan, we, as ordinary people, cannot escape our destiny.
All of the events in our life, whether wealth or poverty, happiness or despair, long life or short life, success or failure – are all destined. Ordinary people cannot escape this fate.
Can we change our fate? Can we escape it. Yes we can! By practicing goodness, we can not only achieve what we want, but we can change our destiny. For example, if we seek children, even if we were not destined to have children in this life, we can have children by practicing goodness. So by practicing according to the teachings, we will attain whatever we seek.
Buddhism teaches us to re-create our destinies rather than be bound by them. We are also taught that if we seek youth, health and long life in accordance with Buddhist teachings, we can also attain them. We only need to depend upon ourselves to achieve this, no one else can do it for us. Once we understand this fundamental principle, we will understand that everything arises from the mind and is changed by our perceptions.
Mencius said “Whatever is sought can be attained. The seeking is within ourselves.” This refers to inner qualities such as virtue, integrity and kindness which we can all work towards achieving.
But how can we achieve wealth, fame and prestige? Even though they are external benefits, they too can be attained through seeking. But if we seek them, is that not implying that we are destined to attain them? If we are not supposed to have something, how can we seek it? This is the basic understanding of destiny, a constant in predestination. The constant is the cause we created in a past life and result we are to receive in this life. Most do not know that there are variables in the constant and that the results will change with the addition of these variables.
Whether attaining something outside of ourselves such as material objects or inside of ourselves such as virtue, we still need to seek from within, from the mind. Seeking from the outside would be futile. Why? The outside factor is a constant; it cannot change. The mind is a variable; it changes.
Kindness, integrity, morality and virtue are on the inside and are the cultivation of virtuous conduct. Fame, wealth and prestige are on the outside and are the enjoyments of life.
As ordinary people, can we attain all that we seek? No. When we attain something, it is because we were destined to have it. Only when we receive something we were not destined to have can we truly say we have gained what we sought. It does not count when we receive what we were destined to have since we would have gained it anyway.
Buddhism teaches us to seek something we are not destined to have, something not within the constant. What we attain from seeking comes from the variable. How do we seek? From within!
In his commentary, Mr. You Xiyin said “Honesty is the foundation for developing virtue.” If a person hides or glosses over their faults or covers up mistakes, how can their future be promising? To acknowledge all of one’s own offenses without hiding anything is to regret and eradicate one’s karmic obstacles. This must be done sincerely to be effective. Awakening is when we are able to identify our faults. Cultivation is accomplished when we have realized these faults and corrected them.
The greatest virtuous deed is that we recognize and change our mistaken behavior. To cultivate is to change ourselves. “Neither misfortune nor good fortune come without reasons and conditions; we incur them.”
Changing our conduct and improving ourselves is true cultivation. It is by no means just a formality of reciting sutras, prostrating before the Buddha, or chanting mantras. The formalities serve as reminders of the Buddha’s teachings.
For self-cultivation however, importance is not placed on the formalities but rather discovering our faults. This is awakening. To correct our faults is to improve our cultivation. Therefore, the most important point is for us to be calm, introspective and be watchful of our conduct as we look for our bad habits and faults. Once we have identified our faults, we then know where to start, what to correct, and how to proceed. We can then concentrate all of our efforts and use all of our energy to reform.
The cultivation of good fortune can be attained through three kinds of giving:
- Giving of wealth
- Giving of teaching
- Giving of fearlessness
Mr. You provided some examples demonstrating the first kind of giving, the giving of wealth. He stated “We can change from a miserly and greedy person to become one who is generous to those in need.” When we are miserly, we are unwilling to give to others. When we are greedy, we constantly seek to obtain more wealth. If we find we are habitually doing this, we can become generous through the practice of giving. When we see others who have an urgent need, we can take the initiative and simply provide them with what they need.
The second kind of giving, the giving of teaching, is practiced when we help others by sharing our skills or wisdom. If we are good at something others are not, we can teach them so they will have that skill or uncover their wisdom.
The third kind of giving, the giving of fearlessness, is helping others to be calm and secure in both mind and body. It is to help relieve uneasiness and their fears. For example, if someone is afraid to walk home alone at night, we can accompany them so they will no longer be apprehensive.
With the giving of wealth, we gain wealth. With the giving of teaching, we gain intelligence and wisdom. With the giving of fearlessness, we gain health and longevity.
The commentary next talks about changing from an angry and agitated person to one who is calm. Easily giving into anger or becoming agitated is a major fault and one Liaofan had. Master Yungu encouraged him to remain calm instead. When we are able to accomplish this, we will naturally be gentle. Both Buddha Shakaymuni and Confucius stressed this important quality of virtues.
The commentary also talks about “To change from a person who exaggerates and is boastful to one who is modest.” When people exaggerate, we automatically doubt whatever they say. Consequently, it is difficult for them to win our trust. Therefore, we need to modest and honest in all we say and do.
“To change from a person who is flighty and impatient to one who is settled.” If we can remain calm, we will attain purity of mind. “To change from a person who is arrogant and insolent to one who is courteous.” If we accomplish something successfully, it was our responsibility to do so. If we did not, we should be corrected and told how to improve.
“To change from a person who is lazy to one who is diligent.” Being lazy is a serious affliction for the person will not succeed in anything. Instead, we would do well to be purposeful and energetic. We also need to be inspired with enthusiasm and determination. Nothing is accomplished through laziness.
“To change from a person who is cruel to one who is compassionate. To change from a person who is cowardly to one who is courageous.” As being overly fearful is another serious fault, we can instead endeavor to be conscientious and resolute.
The master next taught Liaofan several essential points for his cultivation.
“You need to cultivate virtue and tolerance, and to regard others with good will and compassion. You also need to care for your health and conserve your energy and spirit.”
First, Liaofan was encouraged to accumulate merits by avoiding all that was bad and embracing all that was good. This is our foundation for improvement in Buddhism and in worldly teachings.
Second, we can strive to be tolerant of others as we broaden our minds and hearts. If we do not, we will encounter more afflictions and this will present further obstacles to our cultivation. We cultivate awakening, proper thoughts and pure minds. If we cannot attain purity of mind, then we will not be awakened.
There is no need to be overly serious or to criticize everything. Nothing is real. As the ancients said, all phenomena are as fleeting as clouds. There is nothing worthy of anger or dispute. There is no point in dwelling on things, for this will hinder our cultivation of purity of mind.
There is every point in being gentle, loving and peaceful. We can strive to practice loving kindness and compassion for everyone and everything. If we cannot accept anything that is contrary to what we think, then we are neither kind nor compassionate.
The master said “Live as if everything in the past dissolved yesterday and a brand-new future begins today. If you can accomplish this, then you are a person born anew, a person of virtue and sincerity.”
Everything that happened yesterday is in the past. Do not dwell on it. If we do, it is as if we have committed or undergone them again. Let bygones be bygones and forget them. The important thing is to correct what is in the present and what will be in the future. Doubts and regrets are afflictions that are conditions or causes of grief and distress and disturb the body and mind.
The Buddha taught us not to dwell on the past. In Mr. You’s commentary, he said that this is the key to changing destiny for the Perfect People. The Perfect People are those with higher levels of wisdom and who are awakened. There are six steps to accomplish this, beginning from the need to cultivate and accumulate merits and virtues, and culminating in becoming “a person born anew, a person of virtue and sincerity.”
Mr. You said “The first step in changing destiny is to correct our faults. To brush away all the accumulated bad habits one by one and to pull out the roots of our problems one by one. At all times and in all places, to be constantly vigilant of our every thought, word and act. We restrain and discipline ourselves. We protect our innocent and the virtuous as we would a newborn baby.” The full responsibility for for changing destiny is in our hands, not in the hands of heavenly or enlightened people.
We need to be strict with ourselves. If we constantly forgive ourselves, we will limit our futures. However, while we are exacting and stern with ourselves, we ought to be generous and lenient with others. We need to protect those who are pure, virtuous and innocent.
Enlightenment is to know and correct our faults. What is the difference between “enlightened” and “unenlightened?” One who knows that they have many faults is an enlightened being – a Bodhisattva. One who does not know now they posses numerous faults is unenlightened – an ordinary person.
We recite the Infinite Life Sutra daily to be very familiar with it, but this is only the initial step. The second step is to use the sutra as a mirror, reflecting once with each recitation to make a comparison and to find our faults. By looking at reflections in a mirror, we can see what parts are soiled and immediately clean them. To clean is to correct. We recite the sutra to find pollution in our mind that we are not yet aware of. The sutra is like a mirror that sees and reflects what parts of our minds have faults so that we may immediately correct them. Therefore, we initially become familiar with the sutra and then we accord with its teachings.
Master Yungu was speaking about wandering thoughts and attachments when he said “If even our body is governed by destiny, then how can a body of virtue and sincerity not evoke a response from heaven?” Our bodies really have nothing to do with destiny. What matters is the mind, for it influences the body. Since the minds of most people are selfish, they are governed by destiny.
From his commentary, we learn “Utmost sincerity can split a stone of diamond, can evoke a response from heaven, and can change destiny.” Consider the well-known story about General Li Guang who lived during the Han dynasty. One time, he and his soldiers were on a march. On one side of the road, the grass was very long. There was a large stone partially hidden in the grass which he mistakenly thought was a tiger. He immediately shot an arrow and it went deep into the stone. After getting off his horse to survey his marksmanship, he was amazed to discover that it was a stone. He thought “I must be very strong to have shot an arrow deep into a stone!” He tried again and again but failed to repeat his accomplishment. From this, we can see that the first shot resulted from the utmost sincerity of having no wondering thoughts.
Similarly, when great Master Kumarajiva was about seven years old, he lifted up a great iron bowel without so much as a thought. But then he thought, “I am so small. How could I have lifted it?” He tried to do so again, but failed. General Li Guang had mistaken the stone for a tiger and was able to shoot an arrow into it. Master Kumarajiva thought nothing of the weight of a great iron bowel and was able to lift it.
One General Li realized the tiger was actually a stone and Master Kumarajiva realized the iron bowel was extraordinarily heavy, they were unable to repeat their previous accomplishments. Both acted initially from the mind of sincerity that had no wandering thoughts. Thus, the stone was split open and the iron bowel was lifted up.
From these two examples, we can confirm what is said in the Avatamsuka Sutra says “There are no obstacles among phenomena or principles.” This is achieved when the mind attains a certain degree of purity as we sever our wandering discriminatory thoughts and attachments. If the mind is not pure, then all phenomena present obstacles. But, when the mind is pure, there are no obstacles.
“As said in the ‘Tai Jia Chapter’ in the Book of History ‘One may run away from the retributions of heaven, but one can never escape the retribution for one’s misdeeds.'”
To say that we may run from the retribution of heaven means that although we had committed offenses in former lifetimes, the retribution for them is changeable by our current cultivation, and the accumulation of merits and virtues in this lifetime. The retribution of heaven are destined and changeable.
“But one can never escape the retribution for one’s misdeeds” is about offenses of this lifetime. The retributions of heaven are meted out for offenses of past lives but they are changeable, as are our destinies. However, nothing can be done regarding the retribution for misdeeds that we commit in our present lifetimes. And if we continue to commit these, then we will be unable to regret and reform, unable to change our destinies.
When bad causes created in the past, encounter present adverse conditions, the retributions for those wrongdoings mature. However, if we refrain from committing further misdeeds, we can suppress the adverse conditions. The bad causes still exist, but without the right conditions, they will not mature. The principle in changing destiny is based on this conditional aspect of the law of causality. Cause is what is created in the past and is unchangeable; but condition is changeable and controllable
We reap what we sow. We can plant watermelon and bean seeds as causes. When we do so, we will grow the melons and beans that are fruit. However, we cannot grow melons from bean seeds or beans from melon seeds. Cause is a constant here. What we will harvest depends on the conditions. If we would like to harvest beans, we plant the seeds for them and put away the melon seeds. For a cause to come into effect appropriate conditions are required.
For example, seeds need the right conditions, which are good soil, fertilizer, sun and water to grow well. Even after the seeds are planted and the cause is created, we can prevent them from maturing. We simply withhold the water and sunlight. The seeds will not grow. They will not mature into fruits because they do not have the right conditions.
Therefore, although we have created bad causes in our past lives, if we refrain from wrongdoings in this life, end our erroneous behavior, and cultivate kind deeds, we will not provide the bad conditions for these causes to mature. Surely, we also created some good causes in our past lives. How could a person have only committed bad deeds or only performed good deeds? Such a person does not yet exist. Therefore, life after life, all of our deeds have a mixture of good and bad. Sometimes more good; sometimes more bad.
We do not need to be afraid that we have committed transgressions as long as we refrain from committing any more. If we can block the bad conditions, although we may have only a small amount of good deeds, these will blossom and mature.
We need to change from our minds and hearts, to refrain from wrongdoings and to cultivate goodness. The master also said “work to accumulate many hidden merits and virtues.” These are good deeds that others do not know about. If we did something that was good and then made it widely known so that others praised us, we would lose our merits and virtues as these have now turned into praise. To do what is good but to cancel its benefits at the same time will prevent us from accumulating merits and virtues.
It is much betters to practice goodness without letting anybody know and even better if some people reproach us, for this will help to reduce our negative karma. It would be best if our negative karma and retributions were reduced and even eradicated, while our merits and virtues remained hidden.